Shop Windows to the Universe

The Spring 2011 issue of The Earth Scientist is focused on modernizing seismology education. Thanks to IRIS, you can download this issue for free as a pdf. Print copies are available in our online store.

What Is a Mineral?

Minerals are the building blocks of rocks. They are non-living, solid, and, like all matter, are made of atoms of elements. There are many different types of minerals and each type is made of particular groups of atoms. The atoms are arranged in a network called a crystal lattice. The lattice of atoms is what gives a mineral its crystal shape.

Different types of minerals have different crystal shapes. Most minerals can grow into crystal shapes if they have enough space as they grow. But there are often so many different crystals growing in the same little area that they all compete for space and none of the crystals is able to grow very large.

There are two main ways that new crystals of minerals grow. Some minerals form when molten rock, called magma below a planetís surface and lava above, cools and atoms bond together into mineral crystals. Other minerals form when water that has atoms of dissolved elements in it, evaporates away. The atoms get very close to each other and may bond together to form solid minerals.

The special shapes of minerals are not the only difference between them. Minerals can be identified by other physical properties as well. Each type of mineral has its own special characteristics.


Last modified January 24, 2008 by Lisa Gardiner.

Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!

The Fall 2010 issue of The Earth Scientist, focuses on rocks and minerals, including articles on minerals and mining, the use of minerals in society, and rare earth minerals, and includes 3 posters!

Windows to the Universe Community

News

Opportunities

You might also be interested in:

Cool It! Game

Check out our online store - minerals, fossils, books, activities, jewelry, and household items!...more

The Periodic Table of the Elements

Everything you see around you is made of tiny particles called atoms. There are many different types of atoms, each with a special combination of protons , neutrons and electrons . These different types...more

Type of Minerals

So far, over 2000 minerals have been found, and every year new ones are discovered. That's a lot of minerals! Don't worry! You don't need to know them all to be a rock hound. In fact, only a few dozen...more

Magma Chamber

Magma consists of remelted material from Earth's crust and fresh material from other regions near the Earth's surface. When magma is erupted onto the surface in the form of lava, it becomes silicate rock....more

Element (Chemical Element)

An element (also called a "chemical element") is a substance made up entirely of atoms having the same atomic number; that is, all of the atoms have the same number of protons. Hydrogen, helium, oxygen,...more

Whatís That Mineral?

Spotting minerals is fun! There are many different types of minerals, each with a different name and a special set of characteristics. So, if you find a mineral that you do not recognize, you can use...more

Books to Help You Identify Minerals and Rocks!

Are you going out to search for rocks and minerals? How will you know what types you have found? Identification guidebooks for rocks and minerals can be very helpful. Pick one that has nice color pictures...more

Differentiation

Differentiation is a scientific term which really means "to separate". In their earliest history, elements which made the planets would part into separate regions, if the planet were warm enough. This...more

Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation and NASA, our Founding Partners (the American Geophysical Union and American Geosciences Institute) as well as through Institutional, Contributing, and Affiliate Partners, individual memberships and generous donors. Thank you for your support! NASA AGU AGI NSF