I went to a Gem and Mineral show in midtown yesterday and seeing all those stunning specimens made me realize just how lax I’ve been. There are so many beautiful minerals out there that we haven’t talked about!
I spent the majority of the time wandering around with my camera, speechless with joy and periodically pointing to a particularly lovely rock and going ‘Wow, look at that! The color, it’s just…wow!’ Or just gasping. Lots of gasping. Needless to say, I wasn’t very coherent.
I took plenty of pictures, so there will be a plethora of posts in the next few weeks. This week, our featured substance is the incredibly strange Elaterite.
It doesn’t look particularly weird, right? Just another humdrum hunk of rock that I’m far too passionate about. But here’s the thing…
Yes, squishy. It blew my mind. It turns out that elaterite is actually a kind of native rubber (Geologists sometimes use the word native to specify that it is something that occurs naturally, as opposed to being created artificially) formed in small amounts in the ground when oil reacts with sulfur. The sulfur vulcanizes the hydrocarbons, binding them into a solid, (but squishy!!) mass.
It is also known as elastic bitumen. You might have heard of bitumen during discussions about energy. Bitumen is a tarry form of oil, thick and sludgy and found in places like the tar sands in Canada.
Weirdly, elaterite actually has more in common with the synthetic rubber used in industry than with natural rubber. For years, natural rubber, which comes from trees was the only source of rubber in the world. Then we figured out that we could make rubber out of oil, and the rest is history. Now, about half of rubber comes from rubber trees and half from synthetic petroleum based sources.
I asked the mineral guy who had it at his table whether elaterite was used for anything, and he said he’d never heard of anyone using it for commercial purposes, simply because it was relatively rare. If there was more of it, it would likely be very useful.
PSA: As an unrelated note, I was lucky to escape Sandy relatively unscathed, but other areas of NYC and New Jersey were not so lucky. As the temperatures drop, there are still people without power and heat, or public transit. The mold is setting in, and many homes and businesses are still trying to do basic cleanup. If you have time, consider volunteering with OccupySandy or other community organizations, or, donate to a relief agency.