Naturally occurring, gold-coloured iron disulfide mineral. Pyrite has frequently fooled prospectors into thinking they had discovered gold. Pure pyrite (FeS2) contains 47percnt iron and 53percnt sulfur, by weight. Pyrite is used commercially as a source of sulfur, particularly for the production of sulfuric acid. Because there are much better sources of iron, it is not generally used as an iron ore. For many years Spain was the largest producer; other countries include Japan, the U.S., Canada, Italy, Norway, Portugal, and Slovakia.
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This mineral occurs as isometric crystals that usually appear as cubes. The cube faces may be striated (parallel lines on crystal surface or cleavage face) as a result of alternation of the cube and pyritohedron faces. Pyrite also frequently occurs as octahedral crystals and as pyritohedra (a dodecahedron with pentagonal faces). It has a slightly uneven and conchoidal fracture, a hardness of 6–6.5, and a specific gravity of 4.95–5.10. It is brittle and can be identified in the field by the distinctive odor released when samples are pulverized.
Pyrite is usually found associated with other sulfides or oxides in quartz veins, sedimentary rock, and metamorphic rock, as well as in coal beds, and as a replacement mineral in fossils. Despite being nicknamed fool's gold, small quantities of gold are sometimes found associated with pyrite. Gold and arsenic occur as a coupled substitution in the pyrite structure. In the Carlin, Nevada gold deposit, arsenian pyrite contains up to 0.37 wt% gold. auriferous pyrite is a valuable ore of gold.
Pyrite is often confused with the mineral marcasite, a mineral whose name is derived from the Arabic word for pyrite, due to their similar characteristics. Marcasite is a polymorph of pyrite, which means it has the same formula as pyrite but a different structure and, therefore, different symmetry and crystal shapes. The formal oxidation states are, however, the same as in pyrite because again the sulfur atoms occur in persulfide-like pairs. Marcasite/pyrite is probably the most famous polymorph pair next to the diamond/graphite pair. Appearance is slightly more silver.
Marcasite is metastable relative to pyrite and will slowly be changed to pyrite if heated or given enough time. Marcasite is relatively rare, but may be locally abundant in some types of ore deposits, such as Mississippi Valley-type Pb-Zn deposits. Marcasite appears to form only from aqueous solutions.
Pyrite is often used in jewelry such as necklaces and bracelets, but although the two are similar, marcasite cannot be used in jewelry as it tends to crumble into powder. Adding to the confusion between marcasite and pyrite is the use of the word Marcasite as a jewelry trade name. The term is applied to small polished and faceted stones that are inlaid in sterling silver, but even though they are called marcasite, they actually contain pyrite.