Scientists compiled a list of what rare minerals make Earth unique and different from all other planets and natural satellites we have been so concerned with exploring.
- Researchers compiled a list of 2,550 truly rare minerals
- To be considered “rare”, minerals have to form under very specific conditions and in unique locations
- There are around 120 minerals discovered each year
It’s a fascinating fact that we spend energy wondering about the spectacular discoveries waiting outside the limits of our planet, when Earth in itself is a truly unique planet in the solar system. For all we know, we truly live in a place that is exceptional. It still holds mysteries and annually unveils new minerals that are specific to its surface yet have passed our attention. It’s only due to advancing technology that we are growing closer to discovering them.
According to the researchers, there are around 120 minerals uncovered every year, which is roughly the double of what was discovered two decades ago. And yet, we seem to have a skewed perception of what is truly “rare”. Co-author of the study, Robert Hazen from the Carnegie Institution, stated it’s ironic how diamonds and other precious gems are so highly valued. When looking at the bigger picture, they’re actually not rare at all.
Diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and numerous others are considered rare gems even though they are sold in bulk. However, they are not even close to the criteria defined by scientists. In fact, some of the truly rare elements have a quantity of them found that is smaller than a sugar cube. Now that’s genuinely rare. And some are equally beautiful, if not even more.
According to Hazen and his co-author, Jesse Ausubel, the minerals are rare when they only form under unique conditions, are ephemeral, melt or evaporate, belong in places rarely visited by geologists, or are rare based on planetary constraints. To view it more easily, Hazen stated one should imagine a kitchen stove and a pressure cooker. It may take common ingredients to prepare the rare minerals, but it also requires specific temperatures, pressures, and other conditions that do not occur every day.
For example, minerals such as abelsonite, cobalminite, edoylerite, and fingerite are considered rare because they “cook” at exquisitely controlled conditions.
Taking into account their criteria, there are just 2,550 minerals on Earth that are considered rare. One example would be ichnusaite, which has only one known unit. Another would be fingerite, only found in El Salvador. There are minerals that can be sampled from just five or less regions around the globe. And yet, more common gems such as diamonds are valued much higher.
According to Hazen, it’s the rare minerals that make Earth unique in the cosmos. They’re incredibly important in understanding Earth’s complex system, filled with life, water, tectonic movement, earthquakes, and other biological processes. It’s a highly dynamic place that is not yet fully discovered.
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