BORACITE, a mineral of special interest on account of its optical anomalies. Small crystals bounded on all sides by sharply defined faces are found in considerable numbers embedded in gypsum and anhydrite in the salt deposits at Lüneburg in Hanover, where it was first observed in 1787. In external form these crystals are cubic with inclined hemihedrism, the symmetry being the same as in blende and tetrahedrite. Their habit varies according to whether the tetrahedron (fig. 1), the cube (fig. 2). or the rhombic dodecahedron (fig. 3) predominates. Penetration twins with a tetrahedron face as twin-plane are sometimes observed. The crystals vary from translucent to transparent, are possessed of a vitreous lustre, and are colourless or white, though often tinged with grey, yellow or green. The hardness is as high as 7 on Mohs' scale; specific gravity 3.0. As first observed by R.J. Haüy in 1791, the crystals are markedly pyroelectric; a cube when heated becomes positively electrified on four of its corners and negatively on the four opposite corners. In a crystal such as represented in fig. 3, the smaller and dull tetrahedral faces s are situated at the analogous poles (which become positively electrified when the crystal is heated), and the larger and bright tetrahedral faces s' at the antilogous poles.
The characters so far enumerated are strictly in accordance with cubic symmetry, but when a crystal is examined in polarized light, it will be seen to be doubly refracting, as was first observed by Sir David Brewster in 1821. Thin sections show twin-lamellae, and a division into definite areas which are optically biaxial. By cutting sections in suitable directions, it may be proved that a rhombic dodecahedral crystal is really built up of twelve orthorhombic pyramids, the apices of which meet in the centre and the bases coincide with the dodecahedral faces of the compound (pseudo-cubic) crystal. Crystals of other forms show other types of internal structure. When the crystals are heated these optical characters change, and at a temperature of 265° the crystals suddenly become optically isotropic; on cooling, however, the complexity of internal structure reappears. Various explanations have been offered to account for these "optical anomalies" of boracite. Some observers have attributed them to alteration, others to internal strains in the crystals, which originally grew as truly cubic at a temperature above 265°. It would, however, appear that there are really two crystalline modifications of the boracite substance, a cubic modification stable above 265° and an orthorhombic (or monoclinic) one stable at a lower temperature. This is strictly analogous to the case of silver iodide, of which cubic and rhombohedral modifications exist at different temperatures; but whereas rhombohedral as well as pseudo-cubic crystals of silver iodide (iodyrite) are known in nature, only pseudo-cubic crystals of boracite have as yet been met with.
Chemically, boracite is a magnesium borate and chloride with the formula Mg7Cl2B16O30 - A small amount of iron is sometimes present, and an iron-boracite with half the magnesium replaced by ferrous iron has been called huyssenite. The mineral is insoluble in water, but soluble in hydrochloric acid. On exposure it is liable to slow alteration, owing to the absorption of water by the magnesium chloride: an altered form is known as parasite.
In addition to embedded crystals, a massive variety, known as stassfurtite, occurs as nodules in the salt deposits at Stassfurt in Prussia: that from the carnallite layer is compact, resembling fine-grained marble, and white or greenish in colour, whilst that from the kainite layer is soft and earthy, and yellowish or reddish in colour.
(L. J. S.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)