Monday, November 21, 2016

Minerals, Rocks, and the Periodic Table

Minerals make up rocks. Rocks are composed of minerals. Minerals are made from the bonding of elements. Elements consist of atoms all of the same type.

These statement tend to confuse the average beginning geology student. That's the consequence of not having enough science in public schools, which directly correlates to the amount of testing done in public schools. I might write about testing in schools at some other time, but for now, let's science. :)

The periodic table always fascinated me when I was younger (I started college as a physics major). There's so much information available in such a small graphic. For those that don't know too much about it, the periodic table is a tabular arrangement of elements, ordered by their atomic number (number of protons), electron configurations, and recurring chemical properties. This ordering shows trends of the different elements, such as elements with similar behavior, in the same column. It also shows four rectangular blocks (colored) with some approximately similar chemical properties. In general, within one row (period) the elements are metals on the left, and non-metals on the right.

 The first 94 elements exist naturally, with Hydrogen through Iron being made in the fusion of a star's reaction while it is alive, and Cobalt through Plutonium being made during the process of a Supernova. Elements with atomic numbers from 95 to 118 have only been synthesized in laboratories or nuclear reactors.

 Under an international naming convention, the groups are numbered numerically from 1 to 18 from the leftmost column (the alkali metals) to the rightmost column (the noble gases). Previously, they were known by roman numerals. In the U.S., the roman numerals were followed by either an "A" if the group was in the s- or p-block, or a "B" if the group was in the d-block. The roman numerals used correspond to the last digit of today's naming convention.

 The table relates all sorts of other characteristics, including crystal structure, melting temperature, and how likely the element is to be found bonded with other elements. This helps scientists understand how matter relates to each other, and the nature of chemical bonding. Chemists and astrophysicists essentially have the same question: WHY do certain elements like to bond with each other over other elements?

But that's a question for a different post. Or another degree. :)

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Leucite Hills

Boar's Tusk (foreground) and South Table Mesa

Pilot Butte
Or more formally known as the Leucite Hills Volcanic Province, this unique geological setting encompasses a huge area in Southwest Wyoming, including Table Mountain, Pilot Butte, Cross Mesa, Matthews Hill, Boar's Tusk, and more. We'll talk about mesas and buttes another day.

Geologically, it's made of some weird stuff. And that's saying something, for a geologist. Active around 3.4-1.4 million years ago, these rocks have been classified as Diopside-Leucite-Phlogopite Lamporites. Only because, for the most part, no one really understands how they formed or where they come from.

A lamporite is an super high potassium and magnesium composed igneous rock rich in elements that shouldn't naturally like to bond together. It forms from the melting of the mantle deeper than 100 miles down.  It's close cousins to kimberlites, which are magma pipes of mantle rock that can contain diamonds. But while kimberlites are much more common and therefore better studied, lamporites only sometimes have diamonds. And therefore don't get much love from industry, because who wants to spend a bunch on money studying some old rocks that probably won't turn up a profit? Right?

Boar's Tusk is thought to be the remains of a magma chamber that includes lamporite. There are then a number of lava flows around this area that are from this ancient volcanic activity that brought up more of these unusual rocks.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

My kid LOVES the outdoors

My daughter, at almost two years old, LOVES the outdoors. Well, actually, she's loved it since about three months old, when I would take her outside and sit in the waning days of our Wyoming summer. 

I think children are naturally attracted to the outdoors, and to nature, but unfortunately we as a society have a nasty habit of crushing their love and curiosity by the time they're teenagers.

I hope that doesn't happen to Sweetie. She seems to genuinely enjoy picking up leaves and rocks and bringing them into the house (and, no, I'm not exaggerating, even though she has geologists for parents. :D)

I think a lot about how we are encouraging her interests, and even to have interests. How does a parent do it? And for those children that have lost interest, what happened? What did we do wrong?

I honestly think part of the answer is to allow ourselves to have interests, and to share them with our children. I read her books that I like, we take her to places that we enjoy. That seems to be rubbing off on her. Heck, I even watch the TV shows I like with her (Doctor Who is her favorite).

The Natural Wildlife Federation has a great website with links and activities for getting kids more interested in the outdoors. Connect Kids and Nature

The key seems to be to start early. Which is why we'll take Sweetie out again tomorrow.

Here's a picture of Sweetie having fun that doesn't make me feel too bad about putting her picture on the Internet. If you do see us outside, say hello!