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There are over 4,000 more kinds of minerals on Earth than we thought

296 known minerals are thought to be older than Earth itself, of which 97 had only been known to exist in meteorites.

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(Hannes Grobe/AWI via WikiCommons)

By Gwyn Wright via SWNS

There are more than 4,000 more kinds of minerals on Earth than previously believed, according to new research.

A 15 year study into the origins of every type of mineral has found more than 10,500 kinds of mineral on the planet, around 75 percent more than the roughly 6,000 mineral species that had been known to exist.

Scientists say their discovery suggest life on Earth emerged quickly after the Big Bang.

It could help the search for new planets and even tell us whether aliens exist.

Minerals have come into being in 57 ways, the US team say.

They discovered 296 known minerals are thought to be older than Earth itself, of which 97 had only been known to exist in meteorites.

The world’s oldest known minerals are tiny zircon crystals which are almost 4.4 billion years old, the researchers added.


The team also found 40 percent of minerals formed in more than one way, and in some cases used more than 15 different “recipes” to make the same crystal structure and chemical composition.

Of almost 6,000 recognized mineral types the team surveyed, nine came into being using 15 or more physical, chemical and/or biological processes which include near-instant formation by lightning or meteor strikes.

Nature has even come up with 21 different ways to create pyrite, or “Fool’s Gold” because it tricks people into believing it is the real thing, in the past 4.5 billion years.

Water was found to have played a part in the formation of 80 percent of mineral species.

Life on Earth- such as shells, bones, teeth and microbes- played a direct or indirect role in the formation of almost half of known mineral types.

A third of known minerals -- more than 1,900 species -- formed solely as a consequence of biological processes, the researchers say.

Just 41 elements, which make up less than five parts per million of the Earth’s crust, are essential ingredients in more than 42 percent of Earth’s minerals.

The essential elements include arsenic, cadmium, gold, mercury, silver, titanium, tin, uranium and tungsten.


More than 600 minerals have derived from human activities, including over 500 minerals caused by mining, with 234 of them being formed by coal mine fires.

There are also 77 “biominerals” which are formed by everything from corals, shells, and stinging nettles to minerals in bones, teeth and kidney stones.

Another 72 minerals derive directly or indirectly from the excrement and pee of birds and bats.

Diamonds, which are made of carbon, are known to have formed in at least nine ways including condensation in old stars as they cool, meteorite impact and the effect of ultra-hot high pressure deep within the Earth.

Hundreds of minerals may have formed on Earth before the giant impact that led to the moon’s formation around 4.5 billion years ago.

If this is so, the team say those minerals were first obliterated and then reformed as the Earth cooled and solidified.

The team also say Earth’s “Great Oxidation Event” about 2.3 billion years ago led new minerals to form at the planet’s near-surface.

When water first appeared around 4.45 billion years ago, the earliest interactions between rocks and water created as many as 350 minerals near the surface of land and seas.

For the study, the team built a database on how every known mineral was known to form.

They used existing large, open-access databases on minerals and thousands of research articles to find more than 10,500 combinations of minerals and ways they formed.

Study author Dr. Robert Hazen from the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington DC said: “This work fundamentally changes our view of the diversity of minerals on the planet.

“Each mineral specimen has a history. Each tells a story. Each is a time capsule that reveals Earth's past as nothing else can.”

The team say future research should look at minerals on the Moon and other planets.

The findings were published in the journal American Mineralogist.

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