Fluorite (also called fluorspar) is the mineral form of calcium fluoride, CaF2. It belongs to the halide minerals. It crystallizes in isometric cubic habit, although octahedral and more complex isometric forms are not uncommon.
The Mohs scale of mineral hardness, based on scratch hardness comparison, defines value 4 as Fluorite.
Fluorite is a colorful mineral, both in visible and ultraviolet light, and the stone has ornamental and lapidary uses. Industrially, fluorite is used as a flux for smelting, and in the production of certain glasses and enamels. The purest grades of fluorite are a source of fluoride for hydrofluoric acid manufacture, which is the intermediate source of most fluorine-containing fine chemicals. Optically clear transparent fluorite lenses have low dispersion, so lenses made from it exhibit less chromatic aberration, making them valuable in microscopes and telescopes. Fluorite optics are also usable in the far-ultraviolet and mid-infrared ranges, where conventional glasses are too absorbent for use.
History and etymology
The word fluorite is derived from the Latin verb fluere, meaning to flow. The mineral is used as a flux in iron smelting to decrease the viscosity of slags. The term flux comes from the Latin adjective fluxus, meaning flowing, loose, slack. The mineral fluorite was originally termed fluorospar and was first discussed in print in a 1530 work Bermannvs sive de re metallica dialogus [Bermannus; or a dialogue about the nature of metals], by Georgius Agricola, as a mineral noted for its usefulness as a flux. Agricola, a German scientist with expertise in philology, mining, and metallurgy, named fluorspar as a neo-Latinization of the German Flussspat from Fluß (stream, river) and Spat (meaning a nonmetallic mineral akin to gypsum, spærstān, spear stone, referring to its crystalline projections).
In 1852, fluorite gave its name to the phenomenon of fluorescence, which is prominent in fluorites from certain locations, due to certain impurities in the crystal. Fluorite also gave the name to its constitutive element fluorine. Presently, the word "fluorspar" is most commonly used for fluorite as the industrial and chemical commodity, while "fluorite" is used mineralogically and in most other senses.
In the context of archeology, gemmology, classical studies, and egyptology, the Latin terms murrina and myrrhina refer to fluorite. In book 37 of his Naturalis Historia, Pliny the Elder describes it as a precious stone with purple and white mottling, whose objects carved from it, the Romans prize.
Fluorite crystallises in a cubic motif. Crystal twinning is common and adds complexity to the observed crystal habits. Fluorite has four perfect cleavage planes that help produce octahedral fragments.
Element substitution for the calcium cation often includes certain rare earth elements (REE), such as yttrium and cerium. Iron, sodium, and barium are also common impurities. Some fluorine may be replaced by the chloride anion.
Occurrence and mining
Fluorite is a widely occurring mineral that occurs globally with significant deposits in over 9,000 areas. It may occur as a vein deposit, especially with metallic minerals, where it often forms a part of the gangue (the surrounding "host-rock" in which valuable minerals occur) and may be associated with galena, sphalerite, barite, quartz, and calcite. It is a common mineral in deposits of hydrothermal origin and has been noted as a primary mineral in granites and other igneous rocks and as a common minor constituent of dolomite and limestone.
The world reserves of fluorite are estimated at 230 million tonnes (Mt) with the largest deposits being in South Africa (about 41 Mt), Mexico (32 Mt) and China (24 Mt). China is leading the world production with about 3 Mt annually (in 2010), followed by Mexico (1.0 Mt), Mongolia (0.45 Mt), Russia (0.22 Mt), South Africa (0.13 Mt), Spain (0.12 Mt) and Namibia (0.11 Mt).
One of the largest deposits of fluorspar in North America is located in the Burin Peninsula, Newfoundland, Canada. The first official recognition of fluorspar in the area was recorded by geologist J.B. Jukes in 1843. He noted an occurrence of "galena" or lead ore and fluoride of lime on the west side of St. Lawrence harbour. It is recorded that interest in the commercial mining of fluorspar began in 1928 with the first ore being extracted in 1933. Eventually at Iron Springs Mine, the shafts reached depths of 970 feet (300 m). In the St. Lawrence area, the veins are persistent for great lengths and several of them have wide lenses. The area with veins of known workable size comprises about 60 square miles (160 km2).
Cubic crystals up to 20 cm across have been found at Dalnegorsk, Russia. The largest documented single crystal of fluorite was a cube 2.12 m in size and weighing ~16 tonnes. Fluorite may also be found in mines in Caldoveiro Peak, in Asturias, Spain.
George Gabriel Stokes named the phenomenon of fluorescence from fluorite, in 1852.
Many samples of fluorite exhibit fluorescence under ultraviolet light, a property that takes its name from fluorite. Many minerals, as well as other substances, fluoresce. Fluorescence involves the elevation of electron energy levels by quanta of ultraviolet light, followed by the progressive falling back of the electrons into their previous energy state, releasing quanta of visible light in the process. In fluorite, the visible light emitted is most commonly blue, but red, purple, yellow, green and white also occur. The fluorescence of fluorite may be due to mineral impurities, such as yttrium and ytterbium, or organic matter, such as volatile hydrocarbons in the crystal lattice. In particular, the blue fluorescence seen in fluorites from certain parts of Great Britain responsible for the naming of the phenomenon of fluorescence itself, has been attributed to the presence of inclusions of divalent europium in the crystal.
One fluorescent variety of fluorite is chlorophane, which is reddish or purple in color and fluoresces brightly in emerald green when heated (thermoluminescence), or when illuminated with ultraviolet light.
The color of visible light emitted when a sample of fluorite is fluorescing depends on where the original specimen was collected; different impurities having been included in the crystal lattice in different places. Neither does all fluorite fluoresce equally brightly, even from the same locality. Therefore, ultraviolet light is not a reliable tool for the identification of specimens, nor for quantifying the mineral in mixtures. For example, among British fluorites, those from Northumberland, County Durham, and eastern Cumbria are the most consistently fluorescent, whereas fluorite from Yorkshire, Derbyshire, and Cornwall, if they fluoresce at all, are generally only feebly fluorescent.
Fluorite also exhibits the property of thermoluminescence.
Fluorite is allochromatic, meaning that it can be tinted with elemental impurities. Fluorite comes in a wide range of colors and has consequently been dubbed "the most colorful mineral in the world". Every color of the rainbow in various shades are represented by fluorite samples, along with white, black, and clear crystals. The most common colors are purple, blue, green, yellow, or colorless. Less common are pink, red, white, brown, and black. Color zoning or banding is commonly present. The color of the fluorite is determined by factors including impurities, exposure to radiation, and the absence or voids of the color centers.