Helping humankind live with the earth not against it

Category: elements

Borealis Meditation – S04E10 What is the difference between a crystal, mineral, rock and gemstone?

List to the episode here:

Show notes: 

Music included in episode
Fold of Evening by Aazav
Iron from Stone by Damh the Bard

Here are some of the definitions we discussed and links to the quotes I used for each section.

Elements are atoms, the smallest piece that we can split matter into (except for subatomic particles and other things that we’ll leave to the physicists). Different elements have different properties. Take two different elements: iron and helium. Iron is very different than helium. You wouldn’t fill a balloon with iron any more than you would try to build a bridge out of helium. (ASU)

A solid can be made of a single element, and as we will see that is not a mineral. The elements that are known are all listed in the Periodic table. They have different properties and are defined based on the number of protons and electrons. Periodic Table

Minerals are materials that meet five requirements. They are:
1. naturally occurring,
2. inorganic,
3. solids,
4. with a definite chemical composition, and,
5. an ordered internal structure


or from an “informal but practical definition”
A mineral is a chemical element or compound that:
1. has a more-or-less constant composition.
2. is usually a solid with an ordered three dimensional array of ions and molecules in its crystal structure.
3. is formed by natural geologic processes and without human or other biologic intervention.
4. is not a mixture of two or more blended substances.


The ordered internal structure is also called the “Crystal Structure”

Crystal structure is a continuous ordered arrangement of one or more elements. This is simply a fancy way of saying that minerals are composed of elements that are stacked in an orderly and neat fashion. You can think of elements as different sized marbles (except, in this case, the marbles are all very, very tiny!). Based on the relative sizes of the marbles, they can be stacked in different ways […].

A good example of a simple mineral is table salt (Yes, salt is a mineral.). The proper mineral name for table salt is halite, and a geologist will often identify it by tasting it. Salt is composed of two elements; Sodium (Na) and Chlorine (Cl). Sodium and chlorine are strongly attracted to each other and stack together into a cubic crystal structure (see figure). Individual salt (halite) crystals have a cubic shape to them, which is mimicking the way that the individual elements are stacking together. Even though the elements are much too small to be able to see with your eyes (or even most microscopes), you can tell how they are stacking together by looking at the shape of the salt crystals

“Most importantly, [a mineral is something that] has been exhaustively studied and characterized by mineralogists, declared unique in its composition and structure, and the original specimen(s) that was studied deposited for preservation in a professionally curated museum.” (


“A mineraloid meets almost all of the criteria of a mineral except the organized structure. Some can also lack the definite chemical composition. Minerals as we talked about are “crystalline” meaning they have an organized structure. Because mineraloids are “amorphis” they do not have an order structure.  I think this is better explained with examples. Opal, obsidian, pele’s hair, and tektites are all mineraloids. Now the last few are types of natural glasses where because of the heat and the quick cooling no crystals are able to form.” (

There is some controversy if organic materials can also be included. Remember that part of the definition of a mineral was that it was non-organic. This means some people include things like amber and jet as a mineraloid and others don’t. Jet is a type of coal which is made from plant material like leaves and amber is from plant resin. Also there are materials that are made in the deep ocean from the “ooze” made up of tiny organisms like diatoms and radiolarians shells called diatomite and radiolarite. For our sake I think we should also consider these mineraloids since they also lack an organized structure. 

So in that case a mineraloid is a solid, naturally occurring material without a defined interior structure and may or may not have a defined chemical composition, generally inorganic but some organic materials can also be included.

Anthropogenic substances:
“Anthropogenic substances are those produced by humans. They are not minerals. Crystals grown in a laboratory (or someone’s basement) or in laboratory or industrial furnace or retort are not minerals. Any crystals that are found on or in any man-made object are not a mineral.” (

“A rock is any naturally occurring solid mass or aggregate of minerals or mineraloid matter. It is categorized by the minerals included, its chemical composition and the way in which it is formed. Rocks are usually grouped into three main groups: igneous rocks, metamorphic rocks and sedimentary rocks.” (wikipedia)

“A rock is not a mineral, nor is a mineral a rock. However, the components of a rock are minerals. Most types of rock have multiple minerals, a few have only one. Single mineral rocks are termed monomineralic rock.” (mindat)

Igneous Rocks:
An igneous rock starts out purely as a melt. Everything is liquid and all the elements are there swimming around. Then it starts to nucleate minerals, some start growing before others and use up all the elements they want. It can either cool slowly and all the crystals will grow into an interlocking solid material like a granite, or can be brought to the surface and erupt and cool quicker with some small crystals and the melt freezing not having totally formed crystals. Obsidian is the extreme of this where basically no crystals have had time to form and the melt is just frozen. Of course it is a little more complicated but we can go into that another time.

Sedimentary Rocks:
Sedimentary rocks are formed when the rocks at the surface break down either physically by breaking apart into smaller pieces or chemically. These small bits can be redeposited and smoshed and get cemented together and this forms our sedimentary rocks. Generally speaking when a rock physically breaks apart you can end up with either pieces with several minerals, or a single crystal and anywhere in between.

Metamorphic Rocks:
Metamorphic rocks can be formed from either sedimentary or igneous rocks. These are rocks where the original rock is subjected to higher levels of pressure and temperature and the minerals can start to change into other minerals. This can happen to a small or large degree and rocks can also start to flow and make cool patterns. Then this smooshed and heated rock is brought back to the surface for us to marvel at. The minerals in the original rock can change their composition and/or structure at these different conditions so one rock can be turned into multiple different types depending on how much pressure and temperature it experienced. Some minerals are only formed through this process.

Safety information: gem society

“A crystal is a regular polyhedral form, bounded by planes, which is assumed by a chemical element or compound, under the action of its intermolecular forces, which passing, under suitable conditions, from the state of a liquid or gas to that of a solid. A crystal is characterized first by its definite internal molecular structure and second, by its external form.” (mindat)

From merriam-webster:
1. a clear, transparent mineral or glass resembling ice.
2. the transparent form of crystallized quartz.

“A crystal consists of matter that is formed from an ordered arrangement of atoms, molecules, or ions. The lattice that forms extends out in three dimensions. Because there are repeated units, crystals have recognizable structures. Large crystals display flat regions (faces) and well-defined angles. Crystals with obvious flat faces are called euhedral crystals, while those lacking defined faces are called anhedral crystals. Crystals consisting of ordered arrays of atoms that aren’t always periodic are called quasicrystals. The word “crystal” comes from the Ancient Greek word krustallos, which means both “rock crystal” and “ice.” The scientific study of crystals is called crystallography. “ (thought co)

So then what is a gem? 
“A gem is a rare mineral that is prized and used in jewelry.” (

“difference between gem and crystal is that gem is a precious stone, usually of substantial monetary value or prized for its beauty or shine while crystal is (countable) a solid composed of an array of atoms or molecules possessing long-range order and arranged in a pattern which is periodic in three dimensions.” (WikiDiff)

“A gemstone is a crystalline mineral that can be cut and polished to make jewelry and other ornaments. The ancient Greeks made a distinction between precious and semiprecious gems, which is still used. Precious stones were hard, rare, and valuable. The only “precious” gemstones are diamond, ruby, sapphire, and emerald. All other quality stones are called “semiprecious,” even though they may not be any less valuable or beautiful.” (ThoughtCo)

I will be making a formatted reference post shortly as a quick guide. Let me know if you have any questions!

Borealis Meditation Podcast S04E01 – Forest Fires (and feed test)


I am testing that I got all the feeds set back up the right way, and I also wanted to have some content not just a “hey this thing on?” so this episode also has some info on fire ecology.

Please let me know if the podcast feeds are all back up and working (or if they aren’t) I am going to need to figure out how to add the feed to more places this weekend…..

Fire Ecology:

Good Fire/Bad Fire is the topic of this episode and I have some reading for you if you want to learn more!

More Reading:

I looked up some fire ecology people on Twitter if you wanted to follow along with science twitter:

Find me everywhere:

twitter: @katborealis

Facebook: Borealis Meditation

Instagram: KatBorealis

Thank you for listening and all the love and support!

Episode 9: Vacation, Gypsum, and Element

Episode 9: Vacation, Gypsum and Elements

Listen here

Show Notes:
Geology 101: My Vacation 3 parts
Part 1: Conference!

Trilobite Earrings, I bought a pair last year

Lab grown Bismuth! Isn’t that awesome?

Earth As Art part of the Earth Resource Observation and Science or (EROS) Center
the Belcher Islands in earth as art 3

Part 2: DC
Capital Building


Library of Congress

Minerva I believe

The Library of Congress. Isn’t it beautiful?

I wasn’t sure what to call these, almost like the muses but for other fields and there was a geology one! I almost died of happiness! 🙂

Museum of Natural Science

Old ass gneiss!

Phantom Quartz crystal ball and crystal

Mining a car

This is like a 1/3 of a case! I told you there was a TON

GIANT thing of copper!

Natural uncut diamond in its crystal form

3 Montserrat
Location of Montserrat:

THE volcano: Soufriere Hills

Taken from MVO (Montserrat Volcano Observatory)

Plymouth Before (taken from the other side, the south side looking NE)

Plymouth now….

Now some links:
Smithsonian Global Volcanism Project page
Montserrat Volcano Observatory Page
Wikipedia entry on Soufriere Hills Volcano
Description and info on the CVO (Cascade Volcano Observatory) website

AND Last but not least look back at my photo of the volcano
On the left had side you can see a steaming hole if you look close
this is an article with photos from the event that formed that hole!
the Feb 2010 dome collapse and eruption

That was a bit long wasn’t it?

Gypsum will get its own post
look for link here

BUT those Giant crystal caves?
here is a photo and a link!


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Weekly Update
Earthquakes for the Month of January

19 January-25 January 2011

New Activity/Unrest
FUEGO Guatemala 14.473°N, 90.880°W; summit elev. 3763 m
INSIVUMEH reported that during 19-20 and 23-24 January explosions from Fuego produced ash plumes that rose 500-800 m above the crater and drifted W, NW, and S. Incandescent material was ejected as high as 100 m above the crater. Rumbling and degassing sounds were noted, and avalanches descended a few drainages.
KIRISHIMA Kyushu 31.931°N, 130.864°E; summit elev. 1700 m
According to JMA, an eruption from Shinmoe-dake (Shinmoe peak), a stratovolcano of the Kirishima volcano group, on 19 January produced a shock wave that was detected 12 km NE and an ash plume that drifted SE. Ashfall up to 5 mm thick was reported in Miyakonojo (30 km SE); ashfall was also reported as far as Nichinan City (60 km SE). An eruption on 22 January ejected material 200 m above the vent. Based on reports from JMA and pilot observations, the Tokyo VAAC reported that ash plumes rose to altitudes of 1.8-2.1 km (6,000-7,000 ft) a.s.l. and drifted SE.
MAYON Luzon 13.257°N, 123.685°E; summit elev. 2462 m
PHIVOLCS reported that a deformation survey of Mayon conducted in November and December 2010 showed inflation since a survey in 2008. During 18-25 January, up to two daily volcanic earthquakes were detected by the seismic network. Although cloud cover often prevented observations of the summit area, white steam emissions from the crater and nighttime crater incandescence were occasionally observed. The Alert Level remained at 1 and the public was reminded not to enter the 6-km-radius Permanent Danger Zone (PDZ).
TENGGER CALDERA Eastern Java (Indonesia) 7.942°S, 112.95°E; summit elev. 2329 m
CVGHM reported that during 22-23 January gray-to-brown plumes from Tengger Caldera’s Bromo cone rose 400-800 m above the crater and drifted E. Incandescent material was ejected 200 m above the crater and landed as far as 500 m away on 22 January. The Alert Level remained at 3 (on a scale of 1-4). Residents and tourists were not permitted within a 2-km-radius of the active crater. Based on analysis of satellite imagery and information from CVGHM, the Darwin VAAC reported that on 24 January an ash plume rose to an altitude of 3.7 km (12,000 ft) a.s.l.and drifted more than 220 km E. A high concentration of sulfur dioxide in the area was also detected.
Ongoing Activity
BULUSAN Luzon 12.770°N, 124.05°E; summit elev. 1565 m
During 18-19 January, PHIVOLCS reported that 11 volcanic earthquakes at Bulusan were detected by the seismic network. From 20 to 25 January up to five volcanic earthquakes per day were detected. Cloud cover mostly prevented observations of the summit area. Diffuse steam plumes rose from vents on 20 and 22 January. The Alert Level remained at 1 (on a scale of 0-5).
CHAITEN Southern Chile 42.833°S, 72.646°W; summit elev. 1122 m
SERNAGEOMIN reported that during 1-14 January cameras installed around Chaitén’s caldera rim, as well as cameras in Pumalin Park and Chaitén town, showed degassing from the lava-dome complex. Gas plumes composed primarily of water vapor rose at most 800 m above the complex. Incandescence on the surface of the dome was observed at night. The Alert Level remained at Yellow Level 3, on a three-color scale.
KARYMSKY Eastern Kamchatka (Russia) 54.05°N, 159.45°E; summit elev. 1536 m
KVERT reported that moderate seismic activity was detected at Karymsky during 14-21 January. Seismic data showed that possible ash plumes rose to an altitude of 4.6 km (15,100 ft) a.s.l. A thermal anomaly was observed in satellite imagery during 15 and 18-20 January, and an ash plume drifted 24 km SW on 20 January. Based on analyses of satellite imagery, the Tokyo VAAC reported that eruptions during 24-25 January produced plumes that rose to altitudes of 3.4-4.6 km (11,000-15,000 ft) a.s.l. and drifted SE. The Aviation Color Code remained at Orange.
KILAUEA Hawaii (USA) 19.421°N, 155.287°W; summit elev. 1222 m
HVO reported that the largest of about 36 rockfalls that occurred in the deep pit within Kilauea’s Halema’uma’u crater on 17 January was followed by an explosive event, of a magnitude not seen since 2008, and felt locally. Ballistics up to 10 cm in diameter and hot tephra ejected from the pit were deposited on the rim of Halema’uma’u crater. Spatter up to 8 cm long was ejected onto the crater rim after collapses on 21 January.
KIZIMEN Eastern Kamchatka (Russia) 55.130°N, 160.32°E; summit elev. 2376 m
KVERT reported that during 14-21 January seismicity from Kizimen was high but variable, and many shallow volcanic earthquakes as well as volcanic tremor continued to be detected. Seismic data analyses suggested thatash plumes possibly rose to an altitude no higher than 6 km (19,700 ft) a.s.l. Satellite images showed a daily bright thermal anomaly over the volcano, and ash plumes that drifted more than 200 km W during 15-16 and 20 January. The Aviation Color Code remained at Orange.
Based on analyses of satellite imagery and reports from KVERT, the Tokyo VAAC reported that during 23-25 January eruptions produced plumes that rose to altitudes of 4.9-10.1 km (16,000-33,000 ft) a.s.l.
MERAPI Central Java (Indonesia) 7.542°S, 110.442°E; summit elev. 2968 m
CVGHM reported that the Alert Level for Merapi was lowered to 2 (on a scale of 1-4) on 9 January. During 10-16 January seismicity had decreased compared to the previous week. Gas plumes rose from the crater; on 11 January gas plumes rose to a maximum height of 80 m above the crater. On 12 January avalanches descended the Krasak drainage, traveling 1.5 km SW. Lahars and high water during 15-23 January damaged infrastructure and caused temporary road closures. On 22 January plumes rose 175 m above the crater and drifted E.
PACAYA Guatemala 14.381°N, 90.601°W; summit elev. 2552 m
INSIVUMEH reported on 20 January that a blue plume rose from the base of the NW flank of Pacaya’s MacKenney cone. The Pacaya National Park authority was advised to not allow tourists near the area with the new plume. During 21-24 January fumarolic activity in the crater had variable intensity.
SAKURA-JIMA Kyushu 31.585°N, 130.657°E; summit elev. 1117 m
Based on information from JMA, the Tokyo VAAC reported that during 19 and 21-23 January explosions from Sakura-jima produced plumes that rose to altitudes of 1.5-2.4 km (5,000-8,000 ft) a.s.l. and drifted SE and E. On 22 January, a pilot reported that an ash plume rose to an altitude of 2.7 km (9,000 ft) a.s.l. and drifted E.
SANGAY Ecuador 2.002°S, 78.341°W; summit elev. 5230 m
Based on a pilot observation, the Washington VAAC reported that on 20 January an ash plume from Sangay rose to an altitude of 7.6 km (25,000 ft) a.s.l. Ash was not detected in satellite imagery.
SANTA MARIA Guatemala 14.756°N, 91.552°W; summit elev. 3772 m
Based on a METAR weather notice, the Washington VAAC reported ash above Santa María’s Santiaguito lava dome on 20 January. Satellite imagery showed a small plume drifting NNE at a possible altitude of 5.2 km (17,000 ft) a.s.l. During 20-21 January, INSIVUMEH reported that steam plumes rose 150 m above the crater and drifted SW. Avalanches originated from the lava dome SW of Caliente lava dome. On 21 January, the VAAC reported that an ash plume detected in satellite imagery drifted SW at an estimated altitude of 4.3 km (14,000 ft) a.s.l. They also noted that INSIVUMEH reported mostly steam plumes and rockfall-generated small ash plumes that drifted within 5 km of the crater. During 23-24 January fumarolic plumes rose 300 m above the crater and drifted N.
SHIVELUCH Central Kamchatka (Russia) 56.653°N, 161.360°E; summit elev. 3283 m
KVERT reported that moderate seismic activity from Shiveluch was recorded during 14-21 January. Moderate gas-and-steam activity was visually observed during 17-20 January, and on 18 January an ash plume was observed rising to an altitude of 6.5 km (21,300 ft) a.s.l. A bright thermal anomaly over the volcano was detected in satellite imagery during 13-15 and 18-20 January. The Aviation Color Code remained at Orange.
SUWANOSE-JIMA Ryukyu Islands (Japan) 29.635°N, 129.716°E; summit elev. 799 m
Based on information from JMA, the Tokyo VAAC reported explosions from Suwanose-jima during 22-23 and 25 January. A plume rose to an altitude of 1.5 km (5,000 ft) a.s.l. and drifted S on 23 January.
TAAL Luzon 14.002°N, 120.993°E; summit elev. 311 m
PHIVOLCS reported that field observations of Taal on 18 January revealed steam rising from the thermal area inside the Main Crater. Temperature and acidity of the lake were at normal levels, and the color had not changed. During 18-25 January, up to seven daily volcanic earthquakes were detected by the seismic network. The Alert Level remained at 1 (on a scale of 0-5).


New Segment!
We talked about open and closed systems
and how our brain likes to categorize things

CONTEST (I’ll make it, its own post!)

That’s all folks!

new series!

Ok the new podcast is going to kick off the new year with a new series, so start thinking about… the elements! I know groan this again? I promise its something different. I am going to want some input and now I have “incentive” I brought home prizes!

Yes thats right I have prizes! So get ready! I will accept input in two forms: emails and mp3s!

Also we are going to change direction a little bit with the rocks and minerals, I am going to start talking about rocks on the whole. We are going to talk about going from minerals to rocks. Some of the minerals yes, and if there is anything specific we will talk about them. Switching over to where you find the minerals which more often then not is occurring within a rock! So I am going to start going to talk about rocks! 🙂

There is a type of analysis called “whole rock analysis” so we are going to talk about “whole rock energies”


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