Unique Crystals: Newfound Mineral Is Like No Other
Putnisite is a newly discovered mineral that occurs as tiny crystals on volcanic rock. One such crystal, just 0.4 millimeters across, shown here, was recently found at the Armstrong mine in Widgiemooltha, Western Australia.
A spectacular volcanic eruption in Indonesia has killed three people and forced mass evacuations, disrupting long-haul flights and closing international airports on Friday. Mount Kelud, considered one of the most dangerous volcanoes on the main island of Java, spewed red-hot ash and rocks high into the air late Thursday night just hours after its alert status was raised.Learn more about volcanoes in our Volcano Explorer
Villagers in eastern Java described the terror of volcanic materials raining down on their homes, while AFP correspondents at the scene saw residents covered in grey dust fleeing in cars and on motorbikes towards evacuation centers. Some of Java's Buddhist temples, such as Prambanan Temple, above, were closed as volcanic ash from Mount Kelud rained down on them.
U.S. Geological Survey
The 1,731-meter (5,712-foot) Mount Kelud has claimed more than 15,000 lives since 1500, including around 10,000 deaths in a massive eruption in 1568. It is one of 130 active volcanoes in Indonesia, which sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire, a belt of seismic activity running around the basin of the Pacific Ocean. Earlier this month, another volcano, Mount Sinabung on western Sumatra island, unleashed an enormous eruption that left at least 16 dead and has been erupting almost daily since September.
Some 200,000 people were ordered to evacuate, though some families ignored the orders and others have returned home, with just over 75,000 now in temporary shelters, National Disaster Mitigation Agency Spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho told AFP.
Nugroho confirmed that ash and pumice were still raining down on villages within a radius of 15 kilometers (9 miles) from the volcano on Friday, but said that some activities were resuming "as normal."
The ash has blanketed eastern Javanese cities, forcing seven airports to close, including those in Surabaya, Yogyakarta, Solo, Semarang and Bandung, which serve international flights, officials said, while grounded planes were seen covered in the dust. "All flights to those airports have been cancelled, and other flights, including some between Australia and Indonesia, have been rerouted," Transport Ministry director general of aviation Herry Bakti said, adding it was "too dangerous to fly" near the plume.
A new purple-pink mineral that has a chemical composition and crystalline structure unlike any of the known 4,000 minerals has been discovered at a mining site in Western Australia, researchers report.
Now called putnisite, the mineral was discovered in a surface outcrop of Polar Bear Peninsula, Southern Lake Cowan, north of Norseman. While workers with a mining company were prospecting for nickel and gold, one of them noticed the bright-pink grains and sent the mineral to the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), and then it was sent to Peter Elliott, a research associate with the South Australian Museum, for examination.
And, sure enough, the crystal was novel.
"A mineral is different from currently known minerals if it has either a different chemical composition or it has a different crystal structure, or sometimes both," Elliott told Live Science in an email. "Occasionally, a new mineral will have a chemistry that is very different to other minerals, or it will have a crystal structure that is very different to other minerals." [See Stunning Photos of 'Godzilla' & Other Minerals]
Elliott added, "Putnisite, a strontium calcium chromium sulfate carbonate, has both a unique chemical composition and a unique crystal structure." (The color of putnisite crystals ranges from pale to dark purple, with a pink streak, according to the researchers.)
Found on volcanic rock, the new mineral occurs as tiny crystals just 0.02 inches (0.5 millimeters) in diameter, and looks like spots of dark pink on dark-green-and-white rock; under a microscope, the mineral appears as cubelike crystals.
"When the rocks in the Lake Cowan area were deposited millions of years ago, they contained small concentrations of strontium calcium chromium and sulfur," Elliott said. "Over time, weathering released these elements and concentrated them, allowing putnisite to crystallize."
Though it is not uncommon to find a new mineral — 50 to 100 such specimens have been discovered in each of the past several years — they aren't usually discovered by miners, Elliott said.
"Often, they are found in museum mineral collections," he said. "Many new minerals are found by mineral collectors who will forward a specimen they have found to a mineralogist at a museum of university for identification."
The researchers are not sure if the mineral, described in Mineralogy Magazine, has any practical uses. Putnisite gets its name from Australian mineralogists Andrew and Christine Putnis.
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