Pyrite - Mineral and Healing Properties

Chemistry: iron sulfide FeS2.

Class: Sulfides

Group: Pyrite

Uses: A very minor ore of sulfur for sulfuric acid, used in jewelry under the trade name "marcasite" and as mineral specimens.

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This mineral's metallic luster and pale-to-normal, brass-yellow hue have earned it the nickname fool's gold because of its resemblance to gold. The color has also led to the nicknames brass, brazzle and Brazil, primarily used to refer to pyrite found in coal.

Pyrite is a polymorph of marcasite, which means that it has the same chemistry, FeS2, as marcasite; but a different structure and therefore different symmetry and crystal shapes. Pyrite is difficult to distinguish from marcasite when a lack of clear indicators exists.

Pyrite's structure is analogous to galena's structure with a formula of PbS. Galena, though, has a higher symmetry. The difference between the two structures is that the single sulfur of galena is replaced by a pair of sulfurs in pyrite. The sulfur pair are covalently bonded together in essentially an elemental bond. This pair disrupts the four fold symmetry that a single atom of sulfur would have preserved and thus gives pyrite a lower symmetry than galena.

Although pyrite is common and contains a high percentage of iron, it has never been used as a significant source of iron. Iron oxides such as hematite and magnetite, are the primary iron ores. Pyrite is not as ecomonical as these ores possibly due to their tendency to form larger concentrations of more easily mined material. Pyrite would be a potential source of iron if these ores should become scarce.

Pyrite has been mined for its sulfur content, however. During WWII, sulfur was in demand as a strategic chemical and North American native sulfur mines were drying up. A sulfide deposit near Ducktown, Tennessee contained commercially valuable deposits of pyrite and other sulfides such as pyrrhotite and pentlandite and produced the needed sulfur as well as iron and other metals. The sulfur was used in the production of sulfuric acid, an important chemical for industrial purposes. Now most sulfur production comes from H2S gas recovered from natural gas wells.

Origin Of The Name

The name Pyrite comes from the Greek word "pry" which means "fire" or pyrites lithos meaning stone which strikes fire, in allusion to the sparking produced when iron is struck by a lump of pyrite.

Interesting Facts

In ancient Roman times, this name was applied to several types of stone that would create sparks when struck against steel.

Despite being nicknamed fool's gold, pyrite is sometimes found in association with small quantities of gold. During the early years of the 20th century, pyrite was used as a mineral detector in radio receivers, and is still used by 'crystal radio' hobbyists.

Ancient Incas used Pyrite as mirrors.

Where Is It Found

Fine specimens have been found throughout the world. Some of the more well know locations are Leadville, Colorado. Well developed crystal groups were found at Park City, Utah. Misshapen octahedral crystals containing 0.2% arsenic were found at French Creek, Pennsylvania. Other USA locations include Illinois and Missouri to name just a few. Complex, perfect crystals come from Elba, Italy. Falun, Sweden, yielded, a pyrite rich in cobalt.

Many specimens today are coming from Peru. The specimens from Peru seem to be brighter and tarnish less easily. We have seen many mixed specimens from Mexico containing pyrite. Other famous localities include Germany; Russia; Spain; and South Africa along with many others.

What Do We Do With It

Pyrite enjoyed brief popularity in the 16th and 17th centuries as a source of ignition in early firearms, most notably the wheellock, where the cock held a lump of pyrite against a circular file to strike the sparks needed to fire the gun.

Pyrite has been used since classical times to manufacture copperas, or iron sulfate. Iron pyrite was heaped up and allowed to weather as described above (an early form of heap leaching). The acidic runoff from the heap was then boiled with iron to produce iron sulfate. In the 15th century, oil of vitriol (sulfuric acid) was manufactured either from copperas or by burning sulfur to sulfur dioxide and then converting that to sulfuric acid. By the 19th century, the dominant method was to burn iron pyrite.

Pyrite remains in commercial use for the production of sulfur dioxide, for use in such applications as the paper industry, and in the manufacture of sulfuric acid. Thermal decomposition of pyrite into FeS (iron sulfide) and elemental sulfur starts at 550 øC; at around 700 øC pS2 is about 1 atm.
Pyrite is a semiconductor material with band gap of 0.95 eV.

During the early years of the 20th century, pyrite was used as a mineral detector in radio receivers, and is still used by 'crystal radio' hobbyists.

Pyrite has been proposed as an abundant, inexpensive material in low cost photovoltaic solar panels.

Metaphysical Uses

Pyrite is often called Fool's Gold, though there is nothing foolish about this mineral. Within its gleaming beauty is a stone of hidden fire, one that can be sparked to life by striking it against metal or stone. An Earth element, it also resonates with Fire energy, symbolizing the warmth and lasting presence of the sun and the ability to generate wealth by one's own power. It is masculine in nature, a stone of action, vitality and will, and taps into one's abilities and potential, stimulating the flow of ideas. It brings confidence and the persistence to carry things through to completion.

As a talisman, Pyrite is a unique protector, drawing energy from the Earth through the physical body and into the aura creating a defensive shield against negative energies, environmental pollutants, emotional attack and physical harm. It also supports one with a spirit of boldness and assertive action when protecting others, the planet, or in standing up for important issues of community. It stimulates the Second and Third Chakras, enhancing will power and the ability to see behind facades to what is real.

Pyrite was highly prized by the native Indian tribes of the Americas as a healing stone of magic, and was polished into mirrors for gazing and divination. Before the 1800's, it was favored as a decorative stone, carved into rosettes, shoe buckles, rings, snuff boxes and other ornaments, and was extremely popular in England during the Victorian Age for its use in jewelry. Pyrite's biggest use occurred during World War II when it was mined as a source of Sulfur for producing sulfuric acid used in industry.

Physical Characteristics

Color: Brassy yellow

Luster: Metallic

Transparency: Crystals can be opaque.

Crystal System: Isometric; bar 3 2/m

Crystal Habits: Cube, octohedron and pyritohedron. A flattened nodular variety called "Pyrite Suns".

Cleavage: Very distinct.

Fracture: Conchoidal

Hardness: 6 to 6.5

Specific Gravity: 5.1

Streak: Greenish black

Associated Minerals: Quartz, calcite, gold, sphalerite, galena, fluorite and many other minerals.

Best Field Indicators: Crystal habit, hardness, streak, luster and brittleness.

Educational Videos

Pyrite Cube Cluster

Very Rare Pyrite Specimen

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