Diamonds For Valentines Day Is Not Special At All.
Scientists have inventoried and categorized all of Earth’s rare mineral species described to date, each sampled from five or fewer sites around the globe. Individually, several of the species have a known supply worldwide smaller than a sugar cube.
These 2,550 minerals are far more rare than pricey diamonds and gems usually presented as tokens of love. But while their rarity would logically make them the most precious of minerals, many would not work in a Valentine’s Day ring setting. Several are prone to melt, evaporate or dehydrate. And a few, vampire-like, gradually decompose on exposure to sunlight.
Their greatest value to humanity lies in the tell-tale clues they offer about the sub-surface conditions and elements that created them, as well as insights into the planet’s past biological upheavals. In fact, rare minerals represent Earth’s truest distinction from all other planets, according to authors of a paper in press to appear in the journal American Mineralogist.
Scientists Robert Hazen of the Carnegie Institution and Jesse Ausubel of The Rockefeller University say that knowing fully the mineral signature of our life-supporting planet — understanding the distinct combinations of circumstances that create rare minerals — also informs anticipation of what an inter-planetary probe might find.
Their paper, “On the Nature and Significance of Rarity in Mineralogy,” establishes the first system for categorizing rarities in the mineral kingdom and provides mineralogists a framework that parallels one used for understanding rare plant and animal species.
The authors note the irony that precious gems and other minerals highly valued by humankind — including so-called “rare earth” minerals required to make electronics — don’t meet the definition of rare as far as Planet Earth is concerned.
Says the paper:
Diamond, ruby, emerald, and other precious gems are found at numerous localities and are sold in commercial quantities, and thus are not rare in the sense used in this contribution. Uses of the word ‘rare’ in the context of ‘rare earth elements’ or ‘rare metals’ are similarly misleading, as many thousands of tons of these commodities are produced annually.
On the other hand, notes Dr. Hazen, the mineral ichnusaite ( see picture below), exemplifies a true rarity — created through a subterranean mash-up of the radioactive element thorium and lead-like molybdenum, with only one specimen ever found, in Sardinia a few years ago.
“If you wanted to give your fiancé a really rare ring, forget diamond. Give her Sardinian ichnusaite.”