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September-October 2010

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Aragonite: Mistaken Identities

Calcite and aragonite are common minerals, but distinguishing one from the other can be more complex than just a simple visual inspection. A number of samples from the A. E. Seaman Mineral Museum collection at Michigan Technological University that had been labeled as aragonite (CaCO3, orthorhombic dipyramidal) were examined using X-ray diffraction (XRD) techniques. In total, sixty-one samples (fifty-three specimens) were analyzed from localities all over the world, including some famous collecting sites, and only about 50 percent were actually aragonite. In many cases, these were cave formations and were assumed to be aragonite due to their habit and growth location; however, J. W. Murray reported back in 1954 that both calcite and aragonite may be found in caves and that they cannot be distinguished by habit alone.

Alexandria L. Guth is currently working on her PhD at Michigan Technological University, focusing on the physical and climatic evolution of the Kenyan Rift in East Africa.

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