Minerals and the crystalline state
Minerals and the crystalline state

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Minerals and the crystalline state

3.4 Cleavage

If a crystal is struck with a hammer, it will probably shatter into many pieces. Some minerals, such as calcite, break into well-defined blocky shapes with flat surfaces. These are called cleavage fragments (Figure 10b) and the flat surfaces are called cleavage planes (Figure 10a). Note that cleavage planes, which occur within a crystal, are not the same as crystal faces. Cleavage arises when the crystal structure contains repeated parallel planes of weakness (due to weak chemical bonds), along which the crystal will preferentially break.

Figure 10 (a) Cleavage planes within a gypsum crystal (11 cm). (b) Cleavage fragments (rhombs) of calcite. Each piece is bounded by three sets of cleavage planes (no two of which intersect at right angles). The largest fragment is 2 cm long.

The mineral mica (which includes biotite and muscovite) has such perfect cleavage in one direction that it can be readily split, or cleaved, into wafer-thin sheets, as shown in Video 2.

Download this video clip.Video player: Video 2
Video 2 Cleavage in mica. (There is no voice-over in this video.)
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

Some minerals break into irregular fragments that lack flat surfaces (except for any remnants of original crystal faces). In the case of quartz (Figure 11), which has no cleavage, the broken pieces have a curved pattern and this is called a conchoidal fracture ('conchoidal' is pronounced 'con-koi-dal').

Figure 11 A broken quartz fragment showing an absence of any cleavage planes, and conchoidal fracture (5 cm).

Some minerals have only one set of cleavage planes, others have two sets, and a few (such as calcite) have three. In minerals with only one or two sets of cleavage planes, some broken surfaces will show just fracture.

  • Look at the video of the galena below. How many cleavage orientations does galena exhibit?

    Download this video clip.Video player: Video 3
    Video 3 Rotating view of galena. (There is no sound in this video.)
    Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).
  • Galena has three sets of cleavage planes at right angles to each other.


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