FELSITE, in petrology, a term which has long been generally used by geologists, especially in England, to designate fine-grained igneous rocks of acid (or subacid) composition. As a rule their ingredients are not determinable by the unaided eye, but they are principally felspar and quartz as very minute particles. The rocks are pale-coloured (yellowish or reddish as a rule), hard, splintery, much jointed and occasionally nodular. Many felsites contain porphyritic crystals of clear quartz in rounded blebs, more or less idiomorphic felspar, and occasionally biotite. Others are entirely fine-grained and micro- or crypto-crystalline. Occasionally they show a fluxional banding; they may also be spherulitic or vesicular. Those which carry porphyritic quartz are known as quartz-felsites; the term soda-felsites has been applied to similar fine-grained rocks rich in soda-felspar.
Although there are few objections to the employment of felsite as a field designation for rocks having the above characters, it lacks definiteness, and has been discarded by many petrologists as unsuited for the exact description of rocks, especially when their microscopic characters are taken into consideration. The felsites accordingly are broken up into "granite-porphyries," "orthophyres" and "orthoclase-porphyries," "felsitic-rhyolites," "keratophyres," "granophyres," "micro-granites," etc. But felsite or microfelsite is still the generally accepted designation for that very fine-grained, almost crypto-crystalline substance which forms the ground-mass of so many rhyolites, dacites and porphyries.
In the hand specimen it is a dull, lustreless, stony-looking aggregate. Under the microscope even with high powers and the very thinnest modern sections, it often cannot be resolved into its components. In places it may contain determinable minute crystals of quartz; less commonly it may show grains which can be proved to be felspar, but usually it consists of an ultra-microscopic aggregate of fibres, threads and grains, which react to polarized light in a feeble and indefinite manner. Spherulitic, spotted, streaky and fluidal structures may appear in it, and many different varieties have been established on such characters as these but without much validity.
Its association with the acid rocks, its hardness, method of weathering and chemical composition, indicate that it is an intermixture of quartz and acid felspar, and the occasional presence of these two minerals in well-defined grains confirms this. Moreover, in many dikes, while the ground-mass is microcrystalline and consists of quartz and felspar near the centre of the mass, towards the margins, where it has been rapidly chilled by contact with the cold surrounding rocks, it is felsitic. The very great viscosity of acid magmas prevents their molecules, especially when cooling takes place suddenly, from arranging themselves to form discrete crystals, and is the principal cause of the production of felsitic ground-masses. In extreme cases these conditions hinder crystallization altogether, and glassy rocks result. Some rocks are felsitic in parts but elsewhere glassy; and it is not always clear whether the felsite is an original substance or has arisen by the devitrification of primary glass. The presence of perlitic structure in some of these felsites points to the latter conclusion, and the results of an examination of ancient glasses and of artificial glass which has been slowly cooled are in accordance with this view. It has been argued that felsite is a eutectic mixture of quartz and felspar, such that when solidification takes place and the excess of felspar (or quartz) has crystallized out it remains liquid till the temperature has fallen to its freezing point, and then consolidates simultaneously. This may be so, but analyses show that it has not always the same composition and consequently that the conditions which determine its formation are not quite simple. Felsitic rocks are sometimes silicified and have their matrix replaced by granular aggregates of cloudy quartz.
(J. S. F.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)