Scientists have detailed the origin and diversity of all known minerals on earth.
The landmark work will help reconstruct the history of life on earth and guide the search for new minerals and deposits, say researchers.
The catalog can also help predict possible properties of future life and help the search for habitable planets and extraterrestrial life.
Dr. Robert Hazen, Personnel Researcher at the Earth and Planets Laboratory, Carnegie Institution of Science, USA, said: “This work is fundamentally changing our view of the diversity of minerals on the planet.”
During the 15-year study, researchers found that nature has used 57 “recipes” to create the more than 10,500 “mineral types” by crushing, zapping, boiling, baking and more.
The study shows that water helped more than 80% of the mineral species to form.
While biology – such as snails, bones and microbes – played a direct or indirect role in the formation of about 50% of the planet's minerals.
Pyrite, also known as Fool's Gold, was formed in 21 ways – most of all minerals.
Diamonds were formed in nine ways – from outer space to deep earth.
In twin theses, researchers Robert Hazen and Shaunna Morrison from the Carnegie Institution for Science describe a new approach to clumping together species of minerals or dividing new species based on when and how they arose.
Once one has taken into account how they came to be, the number of “mineral species” – a new term – amounts to more than 10,500.
This is about 75% larger than the approximately 6,000 mineral species recognized by the International Mineralogical Association (IMA) solely on the basis of crystal structure and chemical composition.
Dr Hazen said: “For example, more than 80% of the earth's minerals were mediated by water, which is therefore fundamentally important for the mineral diversity of this planet.
“In the long run, this explains one of the main reasons why the moon and Mercury and even Mars have far fewer minerals than Earth.
“The work also tells us something very in-depth about the role of biology.
“One third of the earth's minerals could not have been formed without biology – shells and bones and teeth, or microbes, for example, or the vital indirect role of biology, for example by creating an oxygen – rich atmosphere that led to 2,000 minerals that would not have been formed. in another way.”
He added: “Every mineral specimen has a story. Everyone tells a story. Each one is a time capsule that reveals the earth's past that nothing else can.”
According to the newspaper, nature created 40% of the earth's mineral species in more than one way – for example, both without the help of living organisms and with the help of cells.
Of the 5,659 recognized mineral species studied by researchers, nine came via 15 or more different physical, chemical and / or biological processes.
This includes everything from the almost immediate formation of lightning or meteor showers, to changes caused by water-rock interactions or transformations at high pressures and temperatures that span hundreds of millions of years.
To reach their conclusions, Hazen and Morrison built a database of all known processes for the formation of all known minerals.
Other findings include that about 296 known minerals are believed to be before the earth itself, of which 97 are known only from meteorites.
The oldest known minerals are small, durable zircon crystals, almost 4.4 billion years old, the researchers found, while more than 600 minerals have originated from human activity, including more than 500 minerals caused by mining, 234 of them formed by coal mines.
The authors propose that, as a complement to the IMA-approved mineral list, new categorizations and groupings be created based on the origin of a mineral.
Professor Luca Bindi, director of the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Florence, Italy, said: “Linking the concepts of minerals and evolution may seem counterintuitive, but Hazen and Morrison have once again shown that they are strongly interconnected.
“Their two new articles show in a very elegant way the strong evidence that minerals are the most sustainable, information-rich objects we can study to understand the origin and evolution of the planets.
“To paraphrase a famous Stephen Hawking quote: ‘Hazen and Morrison have become bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge of the mineral kingdom.'”
The research, which is partly sponsored by NASA, is published in the journal American Mineralogist.
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