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Doubly refracting Calcite from Iceberg claim, Dixon, New Mexico.
CategoryCarbonate mineral
Chemical formulaCaCO3
ColorColorless or white, also gray, yellow, green,
Crystal habitCrystalline, granular, stalactitic, concretionary, massive.
Crystal systemTrigonal Hexagonal Scalenohedral
TwinningCommon by four twin laws
CleavagePerfect on [1011], [1011] and [1011]
FractureBrittle - conchoidal
Mohs Scale hardness3
Refractive indexnω = 1.640 - 1.660 nε = 1.486
Optical PropertiesUniaxial (-)
Birefringenceδ = 0.154 - 0.174
Specific gravity2.71
SolubilitySoluble in dilute acids
DiaphaneityTransparent to translucent
Other CharacteristicsMay fluoresce red, blue, yellow, and other colors under either SW and LW UV; phosphorescent

  The carbonate mineral, calcite, is the most stable polymorph of calcium carbonate (CaCO3). The other polymorphs are the minerals aragonite and vaterite. Aragonite will change to calcite at 470°C, and vaterite is even less stable.



  Calcite crystals are trigonal-rhombohedral, though actual calcite rhombohedra are rare as natural crystals. However, they show a remarkable variety of habits including acute to obtuse rhombohedra, tabular forms, prisms, or various scalenohedra. Calcite exhibits several twinning types adding to the variety of observed forms. It may occur as fibrous, granular, lamellar, or compact. Cleavage is usually in three directions parallel to the rhombohedron form. Its fracture is conchoidal, but difficult to obtain.

It has a Mohs hardness of 3, a specific gravity of 2.71, and its luster is vitreous in crystallized varieties. Color is white or none, though shades of gray, red, yellow, green, blue, violet, brown, or even black can occur when the mineral is charged with impurities.

Calcite is transparent to opaque and may occasionally show phosphorescence or fluorescence. It is perhaps best known because of its power to produce strong double refraction of light, such that objects viewed through a clear piece of calcite appear doubled in all of their parts—a phenomenon first described by Rasmus Bartholin. A beautifully transparent variety used for optical purposes comes from Iceland, called Iceland spar. Acute scalenohedral crystals are sometimes referred to as "dogtooth spar".

Single calcite crystals display an optical property called birefringence. The birefringent effect (using calcite) was first described by the Danish scientist Rasmus Bartholin in 1669. At a wavelength of ~590 nm calcite has ordinary and extraordinary refractive indices of 1.658 and 1.486, respectively. Between 190 and 1700 nm, the ordinary refractive index varies roughly between 1.6 and 1.4, while the extraordinary refractive index varies between 1.9 and 1.5[4].

Calcite can be either dissolved by groundwater or precipitated by groundwater, depending on several factors including the water temperature, pH, and dissolved ion concentrations. Although calcite is fairly insoluble in cold water, acidity can cause dissolution of calcite and release of carbon dioxide gas. Calcite exhibits an unusual characteristic called retrograde solubility in which it becomes less soluble in water as the temperature increases. When conditions are right for precipitation, calcite forms mineral coatings that cement the existing rock grains together or it can fill fractures. When conditions are right for dissolution, the removal of calcite can dramatically increase the porosity and permeability of the rock, and if it continues for a long period of time may result in the formation of caverns.

Natural occurrence

Calcite is often the primary constituent of the shells of marine organisms, e.g., plankton (such as coccoliths and planktic foraminifera), the hard parts of red algae, some sponges, brachiopoda, echinoderms, most bryozoa, and parts of the shells of some bivalves, such as oysters and rudists).

Calcite is a common constituent of sedimentary rocks, limestone in particular, much of which is formed from the shells of dead marine organisms. Approximately 10% of sedimentary rock is limestone.

Calcite is the primary mineral in metamorphic marble. It also occurs as a vein mineral in deposits from hot springs, and it occurs in caverns as stalactites and stalagmites.

Calcite in Earth history

Calcite seas existed in Earth history when the primary inorganic precipitate of calcium carbonate in marine waters was low-magnesium calcite (lmc), as opposed to the aragonite and high-magnesium calcite (hmc) precipitated today. Calcite seas alternated with aragonite seas over the Phanerozoic, being most prominent in the Ordovician and Jurassic. Petrographic evidence for these calcite sea conditions consists of calcitic ooids, lmc cements, hardgrounds, and rapid early seafloor aragonite dissolution.[5] The evolution of marine organisms with calcium carbonate shells may have been affected by the calcite and aragonite sea cycle.[6]

Calcite In Literature

A form of calcite, Iceland spar, plays a critical role in the plot of Against the Day by Thomas Pynchon. The same form is referred to in The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman as it has very similar properties to a mineral found in that story.

See also

Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article Calcite.


  1. ^ Mineral Data Publishers
  2. ^ Mindat
  3. ^ Webmineral data
  4. ^ Thompson, D.W. et al 1998. Determination of optical anisotropy in calcite from ultraviolet to mid-infrared by generalized ellipsometry. Thin Solid Films 313-314 (1998) 341-346.
  5. ^ Palmer, T.J. and Wilson, M.A. 2004. Calcite precipitation and dissolution of biogenic aragonite in shallow Ordovician calcite seas. Lethaia 37: 417-427.
  6. ^ Harper, E.M. , Palmer, T.J. and Alphey, J.R. 1997. Evolutionary response by bivalves to changing Phanerozoic sea-water chemistry. Geological Magazine 134: 403-407
  • Calcite information and images

Further reading

  • Schmittner Karl-Erich and Giresse Pierre, 1999. Micro-environmental controls on biomineralization: superficial processes of apatite and calcite precipitation in Quaternary soils, Roussillon, France. Sedimentology 46/3: 463-476.
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Calcite". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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