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Gold-quartz hydrothermal vein (16 to 1 Mine, Allegheny County, California, USA) | by James St. John
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Gold-quartz hydrothermal vein (16 to 1 Mine, Allegheny County, California, USA)

Gold-quartz hydrothermal vein from California, USA. (public display, Seaman Mineral Musuem, Michigan Tech University, Houghton, Michigan, USA)


A mineral is a naturally-occurring, solid, inorganic, crystalline substance having a fairly definite chemical composition and having fairly definite physical properties. At its simplest, a mineral is a naturally-occurring solid chemical. Currently, there are over 5600 named and described minerals - about 200 of them are common and about 20 of them are very common. Mineral classification is based on anion chemistry. Major categories of minerals are: elements, sulfides, oxides, halides, carbonates, sulfates, phosphates, and silicates.


Elements are fundamental substances of matter - matter that is composed of the same types of atoms. At present, 118 elements are known. Of these, 98 occur naturally on Earth (hydrogen to californium). Most of these occur in rocks & minerals, although some occur in very small, trace amounts. Only some elements occur in their native elemental state as minerals.


To find a native element in nature, it must be relatively non-reactive and there must be some concentration process. Metallic, semimetallic (metalloid), and nonmetallic elements are known in their native state as minerals.


Gold (Au) is the most prestigious metal known, but it's not the most valuable. Gold is the only metal that has a deep, rich, metallic yellow color. Almost all other metals are silvery-colored. Gold is very rare in crustal rocks - it averages about 5 ppb (parts per billion). Where gold has been concentrated, it occurs as wires, dendritic crystals, twisted sheets, octahedral crystals, and variably-shaped nuggets. It most commonly occurs in hydrothermal quartz veins, disseminated in some contact- & hydrothermal-metamorphic rocks, and in placer deposits. Placers are concentrations of heavy minerals in stream gravels or in cracks on bedrock-floored streams. Gold has a high specific gravity (about 19), so it easily accumulates in placer deposits. Its high density allows prospectors to readily collect placer gold by panning.


In addition to its high density, gold has a high melting point (over 1000º C). Gold is also relatively soft - about 2.5 to 3 on the Mohs Hardness Scale. The use of pure gold or high-purity gold in jewelry is not desirable as it easily gets scratched. The addition of other metals to gold to increase the hardness also alters the unique color of gold. Gold jewelry made & sold in America doesn’t have the gorgeous rich color of high-purity gold.


The rock shown above is a sample of gold-quartz hydrothermal vein from California's famous "Mother Lode" gold belt.


Locality: 16 to 1 Mine, Allegheny County, California, USA


Photo gallery of gold:


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Taken on September 15, 2010