How old? – The crystal structure of Zircon

What does it look like?

Image generated by the VESTA (Visualisation for Electronic and STructual analysis) software http://jp-minerals.org/vesta/en/

What is it?

How do we know how old our planet is?  Well it’s largely thanks to this mineral, Zircon.  Made up of Zirconium atoms (green) with silicate (SiO4) tetrahedra (blue with the red oxygen atoms in the corners), when this mineral forms it often traps trace amount of Uranium and Thorium.  These radioactive elements can be used in radiometirc dating to determine hold old that specimen is, which is especially useful as zircon is a pretty tough mineral and can survive a number of geological processes intact.  Zircon’s from Jack Hills in Western Australia, have been dated to be 4.4 billion years old, making them the oldest known rocks to have formed on our planet.

Where did the structure come from?

The structure of Zircon was fist determined by Bink et al. in 1926, and is #1011265 in the open crystallography database.

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