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Revealing 4000 More Minerals Than Previously Thought Through Reclassification of Earth’s Minerals


Introduction

A new catalogue has reclassified Earth’s minerals, leading to the discovery of approximately 4000 previously unknown minerals. This reclassification not only considers their internal composition but also focuses on the ways in which they are formed. The study of minerals plays a crucial role in understanding the development of Earth and its complexity. Minerals act as time capsules, preserving information about the conditions in which they were formed and subsequent weathering and alteration. This reclassification provides valuable insights into the emergence of life and the evolution of planets.

Uncovering the Origins of Minerals

The researchers from the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, DC, Shaunna Morrison, and Robert Hazen, embarked on an extensive study to identify the various ways minerals are formed. By immersing themselves in scientific papers, reference books, and databases, they categorized minerals based on their formation processes. This approach expanded the total number of known minerals by classifying minerals that can form in different ways as distinct.

The research revealed that minerals could form through 57 different processes, including asteroid collisions, evaporation, oxidation, and even interactions with microorganisms. The classification of minerals based on their origins allows mineralogists to focus on studying patterns across minerals, a field known as mineral informatics.

Mineral Diversity and Formation

Most minerals form through a single process, but nine minerals can form in more than 15 different ways. Pyrite, commonly known as fool’s gold, has the highest number of distinct origins among all minerals, with 21 different formation processes. Water plays a crucial role in the formation of nearly half of Earth’s minerals, while approximately one-third of known minerals require biological life, including animals and microbes, for their formation.

Implications for Earth’s History and Future

The reclassification of minerals has significant implications for understanding Earth’s history and potential future changes. The findings expand the number of known minerals from under 6000 to more than 10,000. The researchers have made their work available in a public database, which can aid in using rocks to study the evolution of Earth and other planets. This classification of minerals based on their origins allows scientists to investigate theories about the origin of life and determine the presence and impact of specific minerals in Earth’s past.

Furthermore, mineralogy can provide insights into Earth’s future. As climate change and melting sea ice result in higher carbon levels and changing water flows, new minerals may form, containing more carbon and appearing in latitudes where they haven’t been previously recorded.

Conclusion

The reclassification of Earth’s minerals, considering their formation processes, has unveiled approximately 4000 previously unknown minerals. This reclassification not only provides valuable insights into Earth’s history and the emergence of life but also has implications for understanding and predicting future mineral formations. By studying minerals and their origins, scientists can gain a deeper understanding of Earth and its evolution, similar to the creation of the periodic table of elements.

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