|Learning about rocks & minerals is kind of like taking a trip back in time, right back to the birth of our planet and even through astronomical time. It has to do with the way rocks are formed, and what they’re made out of.
Rocks are composed of minerals; minerals are composed of elements. Some of the more familiar elements are oxygen, helium, copper, iron, potassium, and aluminum. There are currently 118 named in the periodic table of elements.
These elements are the basic building blocks. Certain combinations of elements result in different kind of minerals, like a recipe to follow when baking a cake. A bit of silicon and oxygen together makes quartz, the mineral used in our watches to tell time. Combine sodium, hydrogen and carbonate, and you get baking soda which you use to make your cookies and muffins.
In turn, different combinations of minerals create different kinds of rocks. It’s like combining layers of cake to make a large wedding cake of different flavours. If you cut through the layers, you’ll discover all the flavours (and textures) that the wedding cake is made up of. Likewise, geologists closely inspect rocks to determine their mineral composition and categorize the rocks into different groups.
If rocks are made of minerals, and minerals are made of elements, then where did elements come from? Turns out that elements are formed in space by the birth and death of stars. Each star is like a factory, using nuclear fusion to create new elements and then spew them out to the far reaches of the universe when a star explodes in a supernova. All that our Earth is essentially made of was once stardust.
It is minerals that are cut and polished to create gemstones for adornment and jewelry. It is minerals that are mined from the earth to create airplanes, pop cans and bicycles. It is minerals that we use in our flat-screen TV’s, our cell phones, and kitchen sinks. The more you learn, the more you realize that minerals are everywhere in our lives.
Unlike many other natural resources, minerals are non-renewable in that they are not replenished at a rate comparable to our use of them. Minerals were formed millions of years ago at the birth of our planet, and there is a definite limit to the amount of minerals we can excavate from the Earth. Which begs the question: what do we do when these minerals run out?
Minerals can come in many colours and shapes, forming different crystal patterns depending on the conditions in which they grew. Quartz itself can be white, pink, yellow, blue and green. See for yourself in the exhibit the wondrous rainbow of colours that minerals can display. Minerals are so brilliantly coloured that they have even inspired names of butterflies. For instance, the wings of the Malachite butterfly are reminiscent of the vibrant green mineral after which it is named.
Malachite is just one of the stunning mineral examples showcased in the exhibit "Minerals: From Crystals to Gems." We are excited to be the first to host this brand-new travelling exhibit created by the Canadian Museum of Nature. On now until August 30, 2015.