Rocks and Minerals

From Wiki -
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Rocks and Minerals is a geology identification event for the 2022 and 2023 seasons in both Division B and Division C in which teams use their knowledge of rocks and minerals to identify pictures/specimens and complete a written test.

The official Rocks and Minerals List for 2018 includes specific rocks and minerals covered in the event. The 2018 identification list can be found here.

General Information

In Rocks & Minerals, teams identify rocks and minerals from the official list and answer questions about them. This competition is usually in a station format. Specimens may be physical or in the form of pictures. Competitors are allowed to bring one 3-ring binder of any size. In previous years teams were allowed to bring a commercially published field guide; as of the 2017 season this is no longer allowed. This was changed in the 2022 season, one field guide per team is allowed again.


There are three classifications of rocks: igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary. Any type of rock can be transformed into another kind. Igneous rocks are created from solidified magma (rock that has been melted inside the earth) and have volcanic origin, sedimentary rocks are created when smaller bits of rock or sand are cemented together or are formed from precipitating/evaporating chemicals, and metamorphic rock are formed when rocks are subjected to heat and pressure.

Igneous Rocks

There are two main classifications of igneous rocks: intrusive and extrusive rocks.

Intrusive rocks cool slowly beneath the surface of the earth, and often form large mineral crystals within the rock. Granite is a good example of an intrusive rock. Porphyritic intrusive rocks have large crystals embedded in a matrix of smaller crystals. Pegmatite is the only porphyritic rock on the Science Olympiad list.

Extrusive rocks cool quickly during a volcanic eruption and are usually fine-grained. Basalt is the most common form of extrusive rock. Extrusive rocks may have large crystals, called phenocrysts, but the rest (the groundmass) is fine-grained.

Igneous Rocks
Name Classification Description
Andesite Extrusive Usually blackish-brown, sometimes greenish. Papier-mache look.Contains less than 5% quartz.
Basalt Extrusive Very dark, often black. Often contains phenocrysts of feldspars, olivine, and other dark minerals
Diorite Intrusive Dark gray to blackish gray, mottled. Evenly speckled with dark and light minerals, salt-and-peppery look.
Gabbro Intrusive Gray or light green, very coarse-grained.
Granite Intrusive Crystals of feldspar (pink or red), mica (dark brown or black), and quartz (clear pink, white, or black).Coarse-grained.
Obsidian Extrusive Shiny black.Volcanic glass, has a conchoidal fracture (see explanation of cleavage and fracture below) Be careful
Pegmatite Intrusive Same composition as granite but has very large, usually light crystals.
Pumice Extrusive Very light gray. Also volcanic glass, but very light and bubbly. Only rock that floats.
Rhyolite Extrusive Usually light grayish-pink. Made of the same minerals as obsidian and pumice, but did not cool as quickly.
Scoria Extrusive Dark gray, red, or black. Composed of basalt that cooled very quickly with trapped air, so it is bubbly-looking.

Sedimentary Rocks

Sedimentary rocks occur when smaller bits of rock and sand are cemented together. Sedimentary rocks are either clastic or organic.

Clastic rocks, like sandstone, form from other rocks and minerals.

Organic rocks, like limestone and coal, form from the bodies or shells of organisms.

The Wentworth scale (also known as the Udden-Wentworth scale) is a logarithmic scale used in the United States that sorts rocks by grain size. It's typically not mentioned on regional tests, but may be found on the state level exam. The lower the value on the Wentworth scale, the larger the grain size. The formula for the Wentworth scale is

[math]\displaystyle{ \phi=-\log_2{D/D_0}, }[/math]

where [math]\displaystyle{ \phi }[/math] is the rating on the scale, [math]\displaystyle{ D }[/math] is the diameter of the grain in millimeters, and [math]\displaystyle{ D_0 }[/math] is a reference diameter, equal to 1 mm.

Sedimentary Rocks
Name Classification Description
Anthracite Coal Organic 93-98% pure carbon. Shiny, scaly black. Conchoidal fracture. Can be used like black chalk.
Arkose Clastic Formed mostly from feldspar. Gray or pink. Coarse grained, looks like sandstone with redder tint (mostly quartz).
Bituminous Coal Organic 50-65% carbon Black. Not very shiny. Well-jointed, splinters under pressure. Hardness: 2.
Breccia Clastic Conglomerate of sharp, angular fragments. Often forms after rock slides.
Conglomerate Clastic Conglomerate of smooth, rounded fragments. Has the largest grain sizes. Often forms in riverbeds.
Coquina Organic Conglomerate of limestone shell fossils that are poorly cemented. * Clastically formed organic fragments.
Diatomite Organic Light tan, cream, or white. Extremely lightweight, lighter even than chalk. Called "fossil flour" because it easily falls apart into flour-like dust.
Dolomite/Dolostone Clastic Light gray, yellowish, pinkish. Contains a mixture of limestone, but at least 50% dolomite (mineral). Often contains fossils.
Lignite Coal Organic Coal that retains fibrous, woody structure. Less than 50% carbon.
Limestone Clastic Composed of the fossilized shells of marine organisms. Chalk: White, soft, porous. Crystalline: white, hard, crystalline. Fossiliferous: fossil structures can still be seen in rock. Oolitic: formed from small, round organisms that can still be seen individually. Travertine: Color-banded, crystalline, often fibrous or concretionary.
Sandstone Clastic Even, medium-sized quartz grains. Color variable, often tan, pink, or red.
Shale Clastic Very small, microscopic particles. Soft, and splits into plates. Brown or black.

Metamorphic Rocks

Metamorphic rocks are composed of other rocks that have been subjected to heat and pressure. These rocks often bear little resemblance to their parent rocks (protoliths).

Metamorphic Rocks
Name Parent Description Grain Color and Foliation Metamorphism
Gneiss Can be formed from almost any other rock Medium to coarse grained. White or gray, but foliated with dark rock. Must be less than 50% foliated. High grade metamorphism
Marble Calcite or limestone Fine to medium grained. White, can be patched with green, gray, brown, or red. The metamorphism of limestone or dolomite.
Phyllite Slate Very fine grains, wavy bands. Light, silvery-gray to lead-gray. Silky sheen
Schist Almost any rock Garnet Schist: Contains fairly large garnet inclusions. Mica Schist: Very shiny because of diorite inclusions. Silvery-gray, banded, wavy. Must be more than 50% foliated with dark rock.
Quartzite Pure sedimentary rocks Fairly small particles. White to patchy gray. Can range from sugary green to gray to pink. The metamorphism of sandstone.
Slate Shale Very small particles. Dark gray, shiny Low grade Metamorphism.

Rock Cycle

Transition to Igneous:

When rocks are pushed deep under the Earth's surface, they may melt into magma. If the conditions no longer exist for the magma to stay in its liquid state, it will cool and solidify into an igneous rock. A rock that cools within the Earth is called intrusive or plutonic and will cool very slowly, producing a coarse-grained texture. As a result of volcanic activity, magma (which is called lava when it reaches Earth's surface) may cool very rapidly while being on the Earth's surface exposed to the atmosphere and are called extrusive or volcanic rocks. These rocks are fine-grained and sometimes cool so rapidly that no crystals can form and result in a natural glass, such as obsidian. Any of the three main types of rocks (igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rocks) can melt into magma and cool into igneous rocks.

Secondary Changes:

Epigenetic change (secondary processes) may be arranged under a number of headings, each of which is typical of a group of rocks or rock-forming minerals, though usually more than one of these alterations will be found in progress in the same rock. Silicification, the replacement of the minerals by crystalline or crypto-crystalline silica, is most common in felsic rocks, such as rhyolite, but is also found in serpentine, etc. Kaolinization is the decomposition of the feldspars, which are the most common minerals in igneous rocks, into kaolin (along with quartz and other clay minerals); it is best shown by granites and syenites. Serpentinization is the alteration of olivine to serpentine (with magnetite); it is typical of peridotites, but occurs in most of the mafic rocks. In uralitization, secondary hornblende replaces augite; chloritization is the alteration of augite (biotite or hornblende) to chlorite, and is seen in many diabases, diorites and greenstones. Epidotization occurs also in rocks of this group, and consists in the development of epidote from biotite, hornblende, augite or plagioclase feldspar.

Transition to Metamorphic:

Rocks exposed to high temperatures and pressures can be changed physically or chemically to form a different rock, called metamorphic. Regional metamorphism refers to the effects on large masses of rocks over a wide area, typically associated with mountain building events within orogenic belts. These rocks commonly exhibit distinct bands of differing mineralogy and colors, called foliation. Another main type of metamorphism is caused when a body of rock comes into contact with an igneous intrusion that heats up this surrounding country rock. This contact metamorphism results in a rock that is altered and re-crystallized by the extreme heat of the magma and/or by the addition of fluids from the magma that add chemicals to the surrounding rock (metasomatism). Any pre-existing type of rock can be modified by the processes of metamorphism.

This diamond is a mineral from within an igneous or metamorphic rock that formed at high temperature and pressure.

Transition to Sedimentary:

Rocks exposed to the atmosphere are variably unstable and subject to the processes of weathering and erosion. Weathering and erosion break the original rock down into smaller fragments and carry away dissolved material. This fragmented material accumulates and is buried by additional material. While an individual grain of sand is still a member of the class of rock it was formed from, a rock made up of such grains fused together is sedimentary. Sedimentary rocks can be formed from the lithification of these buried smaller fragments (clastic sedimentary rock), the accumulation and lithification of material generated by living organisms (biogenic sedimentary rock - fossils), or lithification of chemically precipitated material from a mineral bearing solution due to evaporation (precipitate sedimentary rock). Clastic rocks can be formed from fragments broken apart from larger rocks of any type, due to processes such as erosion or from organic material, like plant remains. Biogenic and precipitate rocks form from the deposition of minerals from chemicals dissolved from all other rock types.


By definition, minerals must have definite chemical and crystal structures. There are a large variety of minerals, many of which are very common. In order to understand minerals, it is helpful to understand basic chemistry and the periodic table (this is not covered on this page, but can be found in any chemistry book). Each mineral can be classified by ten different characteristics: group, formula, color, streak, luster, crystal structure, cleavage, fracture, hardness, and specific gravity.


Minerals are organized into groups based on their chemical makeup. Native elements are composed of a single, pure element; Sulfides contain sulfur, arsenic, tellurium, or selenium; Oxides and Hydroxides contain oxygen compounds; Halides contain sodium, chlorine, fluorine, iodine, or bromine; Carbonates and Borates contain the carbonate or borate groups; Sulfates contain the sulfate group; Phosphates, Arsenates, and Vanadates contain one of those chemical groups; Silicates contain the elements silicon and oxygen in some proportion.

Special Phenomena
Magnetism: Caused by the motion of electric change, resulting in attractive and repulsive forces between objects. Hematite and Magnetite are magnetic.
Fluorescence: When an object absorbs light of short wavelength and emits light of longer wavelength.
Triboluminescence: When light is generated when a material is rubbed, scratched, or similar frictional contact.

Each mineral has a definite chemical composition. For example, copper difluoride is CuF2. Understanding the naming of formulas may require reviewing a chemistry textbook.


Color is not a reliable way to identify minerals. Some minerals can be any color under the sun. While color can sometimes be useful, do not rely on it!


Streak is the color when a rock or mineral is rubbed across an unglazed piece of porcelain. Streak is much more useful than color because a mineral always has the same streak, but it still has its limits because minerals harder than the streak plate will scratch the streak plate instead of producing powder. Some minerals, like magnetite, may leave their streak when rubbed across a piece of white paper.


A mineral’s luster is the way it reflects light. Descriptions of luster are very subjective but are sometimes useful. Common types of luster are vitreous (glassy), adamantine (brilliant or gem-like), resinous (resin-like), greasy, pearly, waxy, and silky.

Crystal Structure & Crystal Habit
Crystal structure (or crystal system) is the basic overall shape of a mineral as it grows. A good mineral book, like the Peterson Field Guide, will describe the different crystal structures. Here are some of them:

Isometric - Three axes of symmetry, all at right angles to one another, and all of equal lengths. Sometimes called cubic.

Tetragonal - Three axes of symmetry, all at right angles to one another, two of the same length and one shorter.

Hexagonal (Trigonal) - Four axes of symmetry; three are of equal length and lie in the same plane at 120 degrees, the other can be any length and lies at right angles to the others. (Note: Trigonal is sometimes considered to be separate from hexagonal.)

Orthorhombic - Three axes, all at right angles to one another, of three different lengths.

Monoclinic - Three unequal axes, two at right angles, and the other inclined.

Triclinic - Three unequal axes, none of which are at right angles to any others.

Crystal habit is the basic shape of a crystal as it grows. Here are some of them (as listed on te 2023 Rules Manual):
Acicular: Needle-shaped; slender and pointed; a crystal habit of some minerals.
Bladed: Flat, elongated, “blade-like” crystals; a type of crystal habit. It describes flattened crystals shaped like a knife blade. Gypsum can be bladed.
Botryoidal: Derived from the Greek word for “grape”, botryoidal means “resembling grapes”. It is a crystal habit describing grape-like warts grown on an otherwise smooth surface. Goethite is commonly botryoidal.
Cubic: Crystals resembling cubes. A common example is pyrite.
Dendritic: Dendrites are crystals that are unusually large and develop a multi-branching form. Sometimes, copper can be dendritic. Usually, the minerals that form dendritic crystals have elastic/near-elastic tenacity.
Dodecahedral: In a geometrical sense, a dodecahedron is a polyhedron with exactly twelve flat faces. Dodecahedral crystals are minerals that crystallize in the form of dodecahedrons.
Doubly terminated: This term designates a crystal whose two ends have a termination, that is to say expressed crystal faces. For quartz it is sometimes said that the crystals are bipyramids.
Druzy: A druzy is a set of tiny crystals of minerals that form on the surface of another stone. There are many types of druzy, because there are many types of minerals. Each type of druzy has particular characteristics, such as crystal size, luster and color
Geodic: Geodic is a habit in which mineral aggregates form a rounded or oblate mass by crystallization on the inside walls of a cavity.
Hopper: Crystal form exhibiting an indenting, terraced, structure penetrating towards the center. Hoppering occurs when electrical attraction is higher along the edges of the crystal; this causes faster growth at the edges than near the face of the crystal.
Massive: Term used to describe a mineral that has no definable shape or form, as its crystals or aggregates are not visible to the unaided eye.
Micaceous/Lamellar: Aggregate of compact, flat, parallel, flexible, and peelable sheets, or describing minerals that occur in such aggregates.
Octahedral: Eight sided polyhedron; all sides are equidimensional and bisect at the same angle. Minerals shaped as octahedrons belong to the isometric crystal system.
Pisolitic: Pisolitic minerals occur in crystalline aggregates that are rounded and about the size of peas. Individual pisolites are made up of many tiny radiating spheres and occur on mineral surfaces, like deflated botryoidal texture.
Prismatic: Crystal habit describing a crystal with four or more sides similar in length and width. Prismatic crystals are usually elongated in one direction.
Radiating/Divergent: A mineral with crystals or fibers arranged around a center point, for example, stibnite. Also called divergent.
Rosette: The rosette crystal habit tends to occur when the crystals form in arid sandy conditions, such as the evaporation of a shallow salt basin. Basically resembling a rose. Examples on the 2023 Official Rocks & Minerals list include hematite (black rose, aka Iron Rose), selenite gypsum (white-and-light brown rose), and barite (very heavy brown rose, also called Desert Rose).
Stalactic: A crystal habit that resembles stalactites.
Tabular: The structure of a mineral or rock that makes it tend to separate into plates or laminae.

When a mineral has the tendency to break along smooth, flat surfaces, it has cleavage. If the break is perfectly smooth and shiny, it is said to have perfect cleavage. Cleavage can also be described as good, distinct, or poor.


Fracture is described as the way a mineral breaks (not along a cleavage plane). It can be uneven, hackly (sharp, jagged surface like broken metal), splintery, or conchoidal (shell-like).


The Moh’s Hardness Scale, which is used by most mineral collectors, is based on the hardness of other minerals. It is on a scale of one to ten, ten being the hardest. To test two minerals against each other, try to scratch each mineral with the other in an inconspicuous place. If they both scratch each other, they have the same hardness. If only one causes a scratch, it is the hardest. Or, common objects can be used (such as pennies and nails) to see if they scratch or can be scratched by a mineral.

Hardness Mineral or Common Object
1 Talc
2 Gypsum
2.5 Fingernail
3 Calcite
3 Copper penny
4 Fluorite
5 Apatite
5.5 Knife blade
6 Feldspar
6 Window glass
7 Quartz
7 Steel file
8 Topaz
9 Corundum
10 Diamond
Specific Gravity

Specific gravity (SG) is a measure of how dense a mineral is. It compares the mass of one gram of the mineral to the mass of one gram of water. So a mineral with a SG of 4.5 is 4.5 times as heavy as water. With practice, it can be determined whether a mineral specimen is "light" (usually less than 3.5) or "heavy" (greater than 4) just by holding it. Specific gravity can be helpful in detecting metallic minerals (which are usually heavier), or cases where a mineral is unusually heavy. For example, galena is a gray, metallic mineral with a high lead content, and it is noticeably heavy. Specific gravity is especially useful in the case of barite, a white mineral which is unusually heavy because it contains the heavy metal barium, but does not look metallic at all.

This page does not list the characteristics of every mineral; however, more information can be found in any good mineral identification handbook. Learning every characteristic of every mineral is possible, but it is a good idea to only try and memorize the one distinguishing characteristic of each mineral. Short descriptions that help remembering minerals are also a good idea.

Mineral Name Description

Name Hardness SG Streak Color Group Crystal System
Talc 1 2.58-2.83 White Light to gray, green Silicates Monoclinic
Graphite 1-2 2.1-2.3 Gray Grey NE Trigonal/ Hex
Bauxite 1-3 2.3-2.7 White Yellow, brown Oxides N/A
Sulfur 1.5-2.5 2-2.1 White Yellow NE Orthorhombic
Halite 2 2.1-2.2 White Numerous Halides Cubic
Satin Spar 2 2.31-2.32 White White Sulfate Monoclinic
Selenite 2 2.31-2.32 White White Sulfate Monoclinic
Gypsum 2 2.32 White Light medium Sulfates Monoclinic
Kaolinite 2-2.5 2.6-2.63 White Light, medium Silicates Triclinic
Muscovite 2-2.5 2.77-2.88 Colorless Light Silicates Monoclinic
Ulexite 2.5 1.96 White Colorless Borates Triclinic
Galena 2.5 7.58 Lead-gray Lead gray Sulfides Cubic
Biotite 2.5-3 2.7-3.4 Colorless Dark Silicates Monoclinic
Lepidolite 2.5-3 2.8-3.3 Colorless Pink, purple, med. Silicates Monoclinic
Copper 2.5-3 8.9 Copper-red Copper or green NE Cubic
Silver 2.5-3 10.5 Silver-white Silver NE Cubic
Gold 2.5-3 19.3 Golden-yellow Yellow NE Cubic
Calcite 3 2.71 White grayish Light medium Carbonates Trigonal/ Hex
Bornite 3 5-5.1 Gray-black Dark/ Blue Sulfides Cubic
Celestite 3-3.5 3.96-3.98 White Light Sulfates Orthorhombic
Barite 3-3.5 4.5 White Light medium Sulfates Orthorhombic
Stilbite 3.5-4 2.1-2.2 No color Num. Esp. White Silicate Monoclinic
Dolomite 3.5-4 2.85 White Light Carbonates Trigonal/ Hex
Aragonite 3.5-4 2.94-2.95 White Many Carbonates Orthorhombic
Rhodochrosite 3.5-4 3.3-3.6 White Red/Pink Carbonates Hexagonal
Azurite 3.5-4 3.77-3.78 Pale blue Deep blue Carbonates Monoclinic
Sphalerite 3.5-4 3.9-4.1 Colorless-brown Num. Esp. black Sulfides Cubic
Malachite 3.5-4 4 Pale green Deep green Carbonates Monoclinic
Chalcopyrite 3.5-4 4.3-4.4 Green-black Brassy yellow Sulfides Tetragonal
Fluorite 4 3.1-3.3 White Numerous Halides Cubic
Apatite 5 3.1-3.2 White Many esp. green Phosphates Trigonal/ Hex
Goethite 5-5.5 3.3-4.3 Orange brownish Black-brown light Hydroxides Orthorhombic
Turquoise 5-6 2.6-2.8 Bluish-Green Turquoise Phosphate Triclinic
Tremolite 5-6 2.9-3.2 White Many esp. white Silicates Monoclinic
Hornblende 5-6 3.28-3.41 White gray Dark esp. green Silicates Monoclinic
Hematite 5-6 5.26 Brown-red Brown red, black Oxides Trigonal/ Hex
Sodalite 5.5-6 2.14-2.4 Colorless Many esp. blue Silicates Cubic
Augite 5.5-6 3.23-3.52 Gray-green Dark esp. Black Silicates Monoclinic
Opal 5.5-6.5 1.9-2.3 White Many esp. dark Silicates N/A
Actinolite 5.5-6 2.9-3.5 No color Pale/Dark Green Silicate Monoclinic
Rhodonite 5.5-6.5 3.57-3.76 White Red pink Silicates Triclinic
Magnetite 5.5-6.5 5.2 Black Black Oxides Cubic
Orthoclase 6 2.6 Many White Silicate Monoclinic
Amazonite 6-6.5 2.55-2.63 White Medium esp. green Silicates Triclinic
Feldspar 6-6.5 2.55-2.63 White White red Silicates Monoclinic
Albite 6-6.5 2.6-2.63 White Many Esp. Light Silicates Triclinic
Labradorite 6-6.5 2.6-2.8 White Many (Iridescent) Silicates Triclinic
Rutile 6-6.5 4.2-4.3 White-Tan Numerous Oxides Tetragonal
Pyrolustite 6-6.5 4.4-5.3 Bluish-Black Black-Gray Oxide Tetragonal
Pyrite 6-6.5 5 Green-black Pale yellow Sulfides Cubic
Epidote 6-7 3.35-3.5 Colorless-grayish Dark or yellowish Silicates Monoclinic
Kyanite Anisotropic:

Vertical: 4.5-5.5

Horizontal: 6-7

3.5-3.7 White/Colorless Blue Silicate Triclinic
Spodumene 6.5-7 3.1-3.2 White Many Silicate Monoclinic
Olivine 6.5-7 3.27-4.32 Colorless Green brown Silicates Orthorhombic
Almandine (garnet) 6.5-7.5 4.1-4.3 White Dark esp. brown Silicates Cubic
Quartz 7 2.65 Colorless-white Numerous Silicates Trigonal/ Hex
Tourmaline Group 7-7.5 3-3.2 Colorless Medium Silicates Trigonal/ Hex
Zircon 7.5 4.6-4.7 No color Many Silicates Tetragonal
Staurolite 7-7.5 3.65-3.83 Colorless-grayish Dark Silicates Orthorhombic
Beryl 7-8 2.6-2.9 White Numerous Silicates Trigonal/ Hex
Topaz 8 3.49-3.57 Colorless Numerous Silicates Orthorhombic
Corundum 9 4-4.1 White Numerous Oxides Trigonal/ Hex
Diamond 10 3.52 White Numerous NE Cubic
Name Hardness SG Streak Color Group Crystal Shape

More Rocks and Minerals Descriptions

Albite - white, tan, or cream feldspar

Almandine - dark red, garnet

Amazonite - bright green feldspar

Apatite - usually green or purple, but can be almost any color

Aragonite - white, powdery variety of calcite. can often form amber colored hexagonal crystals

Augite - one of the approximately six minerals on the list that look like nondescript black rocks; however, it has a greenish tinge and cleavage at a right angle that set it apart a little

Azurite - always blue (one of those minerals where color can be depended on), with a blue streak

Bauxite - tan rock with orange, white, and prown pisoliths of aluminum, causing light weight, formed from weathering of feldspars

Barite - white and kind of platy, but very heavy because it contains barium. can form rosettes

Beryl - the cheap specimens usually seen in Science Olympiad are mostly light green and opaque; often have hexagonal crystal; aquamarine and emerald

Biotite - black mica – thin and platy; comes off in thin sheets

Bornite - "Peacock Copper;" has a dark, purplish-blue tarnish, also called Peackock Tarnish; chalcopyrite, which looks almost the same, tarnishes purple, orange, yellow, and red

Calcite - looks almost like fluorite and can be any color, but it is a little softer and it has a more rhombus like shape. It also bubbles in hydrochloric acid (hcl), but most people do not have that lying around to test rocks with

Celestite - usually a soft, translucent white or blue

Chalcopyrite - very brassy yellow, tarnishes bright red, purple, yellow, and orange

Copper -copper color, see the green tarnish

Corundum - very hard reddish or purplish rock, very hard and often has small column-like opaque crystals, rubies and sapphires

Diamond - adamantine luster, comes in various lighter colors, hardest mineral

Dolomite - thin, platy cream-colored crystals; sometimes there are dark specks embedded between the crystals

Epidote - mostly greenish-yellow and grainy, but can be almost any shade of green; often confused with olivine; described as "pistachio"

Feldspar - kind of a salmon-pink color; has a very distinctive luster

Flourite - almost any color; hard to distinguish from calcite, but it is a little harder; usually has dipyramidal or cubic structure

Galena - has perfect cubic cleavage and is very heavy, made of lead sulfide and is an important lead ore

Goethite - another "black rock", sometimes has a slightly iridescent tarnish, though, has been described as an "ugly brownish orange-black rock"

Gold - gold colored, do not confuse with pyrite, typically smoother than pyrite, generally forms nuggets while pyrite usually forms cubic crystals

Graphite - silver, shiny, soft, and leaves dark smudges on hands, used for pencil lead.

Gypsum - looks like any number of transparent colorless minerals, but luckily gypsum is very soft and easily scratched with a fingernail; alabaster gypsum is white and opaque, satin-spar is white and fibrous, and selenite is transparent

Halite - rock salt; about the color and hardness of selenite gypsum; it has nice cubic crystals, though, and it can usually be identified it from that; tasting specimens is against the rules in science olympiad, but smelling them is not and salt has a distinct smell along with a greasy feel

Hematite - hematite will either be black and shiny, dark gray and dull, or rusty red. Its most distinctive feature is it is cherry red streak, but it also has one other interesting property. It is almost always cool to the touch, much more than magnetite (which it looks like).

Hornblende - black with short stubby crystals, and usually striated lengthwise

Kaolinite - looks like chalk, but is actually clay; usually white and orange

Lepidolite - pink or lilac color; also has darker purple dots, called lamellae; a type of mica so it is sometimes found in sheets

Magnetite - looks a lot like hematite, except it is magnetic; it also has a gray or black streak - hematite’s streak is cherry-red

Malachite - this mineral is easy because it is always green, with a green streak; often found with azurite

Muscovite - white, yellow, or tan mica-thin and platy

Olivine - usually light green or yellowish-green, transparent specimens are called peridot

Opal - precious opal is iridescent, but most opal is white and opaque with a greasy or waxy luster; usually amorphous crystals

Pyrite - metallic fool’s gold, often found in cubic or hexagonal crystals. It has a blackish green streak. Distinguished from gold by greater hardness, lower specific gravity, rougher surface, and tendency to form cubic crystals as opposed to nuggets

Quartz - fairly hard, no cleavage; agate is often grey or brown and is banded, onyx is a black variety of agate, amethyst is purple and transparent, chalcedony is waxy, transparent grey and usually found in bulbous masses, chert/flint is white/black and noncrystalline with a marked conchoidal fracture, citrine is yellow or orange and transparent, crystal is colorless and transparent, jasper is orange or red and opaque, milky is crystalline but white or light tan, rose is pale pink

Rhodonite - comes in all shades of pink and red; usually massive, but sometimes crystalline

Silver - metallic silver color; pure form has the highest reflectiveness of any element, but it is usually tarnished; this tarnish is silver sulfide and appears dull, dark gray

Sodalite - always blue, but usually a very dark, mottled blue; its darker color and colorless streak tell it apart from azurite

Sphalerite - can be almost any color, but usually yellowish, tan, or reddish. It sometimes comes in crystals, but it can be massive, too when it is usually a dark brown; has a resinous luster

Staurolite - almost always forms short, prismatic crystals; usually brown, and sometimes forms cruciform twins

Sulfur - always some shade of yellow and it gives off a sulfurous odor when rubbed

Talc - very soft, often light green, white, or grey and feels very waxy

Topaz - extremely variable color but usually comes in well-formed prismatic crystals, a light colored gem

Tourmaline - also extremely variable when it comes to color, but it often comes in long prismatic crystals with vertical striations on it is surface; pleochroric (same crystal appears different color depending on viewing angle)

Tremolite - usually comes in small, bladed crystals, light-colored and sometimes transparent, commercially was used as asbestos

Ulexite - almost always white, and looks like a densely-packed bundle of white threads; opaque in one direction and conducts light in the other; fiber-optic abilities gave it the nickname "T.V. rock"

Bowen’s Reaction Series

Bowen’s Reaction Series is the work of Norman Bowen, a petrologist who conducted experiments with heating rock material at different temperatures and analyzing results. The reaction series helps explain why certain minerals are commonly found together, while others combinations are rare.

The series is broken in two branches, continuous and discontinuous For the continuous branch, the series explains that at the highest temperatures, calcium-rich Plagioclase will form. As temperatures become cooler, sodium-rich Plagioclase will form, and Orthoclase, Muscovite, and Quartz will follow. For the discontinuous branch, the series says that Olivine will form at the highest temperatures, followed by Pyroxene, Amphibole, and Biotite. After Biotite, the branch produces Orthoclase, Muscovite, and Quartz, like the continuous branch describes.

The reaction series also helps explain why certain minerals are only found in certain types of igneous rocks. As olivine and pyroxene form at higher temperatures, they are more likely to be found in ultramafic and mafic rocks, as compared to felsic rocks. Conversely, quartz is found largely in felsic rocks due to forming at the lower temperatures and crystallizing later.


Picking a Field Guide

It is advisable to use a binder over a field guide, since not only can a binder be organized with one’s own discretion, but also preparing sheets for a binder can help with learning facts (plus it is great for general geology/petrology/mineralogy notes). However, for those who prefer field guides, here is a guide by SciOly user quizbowl on picking one:

"quizbowl's guide to field guides"
Simon and Schuster - Definitely the best one of them all. Okay pictures, a lot of information, and has great notes in the start of each section. I think it is quite concise and efficient - very reliable. Not the easiest read, but definitely numero uno. Hands down

Peterson - A not-so-close second, but a clear silver medalist here. Not as informative as Simon and Schuster, but does have nice pictures and good ID tips. I like the layout. Good backup

Audubon - This guide is pretty good, but rather unorganized. There is a lot of information, but a lot of it is crammed too much and unimportant. The pictures are usually good, but the information was a bit outdated even in the most recent version

Smithsonian - This one is great for learning how to identify the rocks, but once you get past that, its use and value drops considerably. Not a terrible start, though

The Complete Guide to Rocks and Minerals - A bit similar to that of Smithsonian, but at least goes a bit in depth. Seems quite large to carry around while running to stations - might as well just use a binder

So, in short, if you’re just starting off, try Peterson or Smithsonian. Once you’ve mastered some of the general basics, try your hand at Simon and Schuster. But why use them when you can have a lovely binder? (Tip: it is perfectly okay to splice pages of your field guide into your binder)


  1. Speed is the key: Rocks & Minerals is a very fast-paced event, and it is important to be able to find information quickly because most stations have multiple tasks in a short time period, so organization is very important. Less may seem like more, but the advantages comes in knowing the binder and the material well. If the amount of information in the binder is minimized there's less information to sort through, but key information can also be left out. As a rule of thumb, keep it travel-sized (a one-inch binder should be plenty, and a fairly good book will do)
  2. Do not just read the wiki page and expect it to mention everything. Get a couple of good books and get to know them really, really well. Eventually the book will not be needed for basic identification, but it is always good to keep them around just in case.
  3. The Peterson Field Guide to Rocks and Minerals is a recommended field guide by a Rocks and Minerals veteran. The Audubon book is also recommended (the field guide, not the pocket guide), as is the Eyewitness Handbook
  4. Buy or borrow a college book on geology or mineralogy. There are also a lot of good internet resources. [] is a good place to start with good descriptions of minerals and a lot of nice links.
  5. Include multiple images of each specimen in the binder, and work with actual specimens if possible. Knowing how a specific rock or mineral looks will be more advantageous than having to flip through the binder to identify specific rocks or minerals.