Volcanoes are among the most destructive and awe-inspiring phenomena on the planet. But these fiery cracks do much more than just destroy. They also create.
In a new study, researchers in Russia report the discovery of one such creation – an unusual mineral never documented by scientists: a tempting, vibrant blue-green crystallized substance that the team called petrovite.
The mineral was discovered in the volcanic landscape of the Far East of Russia, on top of the Tolbachik volcano on the Kamchatka Peninsula.
Tolbachik’s erupting history dates back thousands of years, but recently two remarkable events have emerged: “The great Tolbachik eruption of 1975-1976 and a second, less follow-up action between 2012-2013.
The force of the eruptions during the first event tore numerous slag cones in the volcanic complex, opening up rocky terrain that has since been discovered as a rich vein of fumarole deposits and unknown minerals not seen anywhere else.
In total, the Tolbachik volcano claims 130 minerals from the area that were first identified here, the last of which is a petrotic, sulfate mineral that forms as blue globular aggregates of tabular crystals, many of which contain gaseous inclusions.
The specimen studied here was discovered in 2000, near the second slag cone associated with the 1975 eruption, and was stored for later analysis. It may have been a long time, but this analysis now reveals that this vital blue mineral shows special molecular traits that are rarely seen before.
The copper atom in the crystal structure of petrovite has an unusual and very rare coordination of seven oxygen atoms “, explains the leading researcher and crystallographer Stanislav Filatov from the University of St. Petersburg.
“Such coordination is characteristic of only a few compounds, as well as locusts.”
The locusts, identified a few years ago by another team from St. Petersburg, were also discovered in Tolbachik – and, like the Petros, is strikingly colored in itself.
In the case of petrovite, the mineral, which is thought to crystallize by direct precipitation from volcanic gases, forms as blue cryptocrystalline crusts enveloping fine pyroclastic material.
At the chemical level, petrovite is a new type of crystalline structure, although it bears similarity to the locust from which it can be derived, hypothetically speaking.
Remarkably, the molecular framework of petrovite — consisting of oxygen atoms, sodium sulfur, and copper — is effectively porous in nature, demonstrating interconnected pathways that could allow sodium ions to migrate through the structure.
Because of this behavior – and if we can replicate the framework in the laboratory – the team believes that this could lead to important applications in materials science, potentially enabling new ways to develop cathodes for use in batteries and electrical devices.
“Currently, the biggest problem with this use is the small amount of transition metal – copper – in the crystal structure of the mineral,” says Filatov.
“This can be solved by synthesizing a compound with the same structure as petrovite in the laboratory.”
The findings were reported in Mineralogical magazine.