1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Aragonite

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ARAGONITE, one of the mineral forms of calcium carbonate (CaCO3), the other form being the more common mineral calcite. It crystallizes in the orthorhombic system, and the crystals are either prismatic or acicular in habit. Simple crystals are, however, rare; twinning on the prism planes (M in the figures) being a characteristic feature of the mineral (fig. 1). This twinning is usually often repeated on the same plane (fig. 2), and gives rise to striations on the terminal faces (k) of the crystals; often, also, three crystals are twinned together on two of the prism planes of one of them, producing an apparently hexagonal prism. The mineral is colourless, white or yellowish, transparent or translucent, has a vitreous lustre, and, in fact, is not unlike calcite in general appearance. It may, however, always be readily distinguished from calcite by the absence of any marked cleavage, and by its greater hardness (H. = 3½ − 4) and specific gravity (2.93); further, it is optically biaxial, whilst calcite is uniaxial. It is brittle and has a subconchoidal fracture; on a fractured surface the lustre is decidedly resinous in character.

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Fig. 1.Fig. 2.

The mineral was first found, as reddish twinned crystals with the form of six-sided prisms, at Molina in Aragon, Spain, where it occurs with gypsum and small crystals of ferruginous quartz in a red clay. It is from this locality that the mineral takes its name, which was originally spelt arragonite. Fine groups of crystals of the same habit are found in the sulphur deposits of Girgenti in Sicily; also at Herrengrund near Neusohl in Hungary. At many other localities the mineral takes the form of radiating groups of acicular crystals, such as those from the haematite mines of west Cumberland: beautiful feathery forms have been found in a limestone cave in the Transvaal. Fibrous forms are also common. A peculiar coralloidal variety known as flosferri (“flower of iron”) consists of radially arranged fibres: magnificent snow-white specimens of this variety have long been known from the iron mines of Eisenetz in Styria. The calcareous secretions of many groups of invertebrate animals consist of aragonite (calcite is also common); pearls may be specially cited as an example.

Aragonite is a member of the isomorphous group of minerals comprising witherite (BaCO3), strontianite (SrCO3), cerussite (PbCO3) and bromlite ((Ba, Ca)CO3); and crystals of aragonite sometimes contain small amounts of strontium or lead. A variety known as tarnowitzite, from Tarnowitz in Silesia, contains about 5% of lead carbonate.

Aragonite is the more unstable of the two modifications of calcium carbonate. A crystal of aragonite when heated becomes converted into a granular aggregate of calcite individuals: altered crystals of this kind (paramorphs) are not infrequently met with in nature, whilst in fossil shells the original nacreous layer of aragonite has invariably been altered to calcite. From a solution of calcium carbonate in water containing carbon dioxide crystals of calcite are deposited at the ordinary temperature, but from a warm solution aragonite crystallizes out. The thermal springs of Carlsbad deposit spherical concretions of aragonite, forming masses known as pisolite or Sprudelstein.  (L. J. S.)