MARCASITE, a mineral with the same chemical composition as pyrites, being iron disulphide FeSj, but crystallizing in the orthorhombic instead of in the cubic system. The name is of Arabic origin and was long applied to crystallized pyrites (<?..) ; it was restricted to the present species by W. Haidinger in 1845. The mineral was known to G. Agricola in 1546 under the names Wasserkies or Weisserkies and Leberkies, and it has been variously known as white pyrites, hepatic pyrites, lamellar pyrites, radiated pyrites (German Slrahlkies) and prismatic pyrites. The orthorhombic form of the crystals, as distinct from the cubic form of pyrites, was recognized by Rome de 1'Isle in 1772, though later R. J. Haiiy considered the crystals to be only distorted cubic forms.
The crystals are isomorphous with mispickel (</..), but only rarely are they distinctly developed and simple (fig.). Usually, they are twinned on a prism plane, M, producing pentagonal stellate groups of five crystals; twinning on the plain g, in which the crystals intercross at angles of nearly 60, is less common. This frequent twinning gives rise to characteristic forms, with many re-entrant angles, to which the names " spear pyrites " and " cockscomb pyrites " are applied. The commonest state of aggregation is that of radially arranged fibres, the external surface of the mass being globular, nodular or stalactitic in form.
Apart from crystalline form, the external characters of marcasite are very similar to those of pyrites, and when distinct crystals are not available the two species cannot always be easily distinguished. The colour is usually pale bronze-yellow, often rather lighter than that of pyrites; on freshly fractured surfaces of pure marcasite the colour is tin-white, but this rapidly tarnishes on exposure to air. The lustre is metallic and brilliant. The streak is greyish or brownish-black. The hardness (6-6|) is the same as that of pyrites, and the specific gravity (4-8-4-g) as a rule rather less. Arsenical varieties of marcasite, containing up to 5% of arsenic, are known as lonchidite and kyrosite.
Marcasite readily oxidizes on exposure to moist air, with the production of sulphuric acid and a white fibrous efflorescence of ferrous sulphate, and in course of time specimens in collections often became completely disintegrated. In nature it is frequently altered to limonite with the separation of native sulphur. Marcasite is thus the less stable of the two modifications of iron disulphide. Many experiments have been made with a view to determining the difference in chemical constitution of marcasite and pyrites, but with no very definite results. It is a noteworthy fact that whilst pyrites has been prepared artificially, marcasite has not.
Marcasite occurs under the same conditions as pyrites, but is much less common. Whilst pyrites is found abundantly in the older crystalline rocks and slates, marcasite is more abundant in clays, and has often been formed as a concretion around organic remains. It is abundant, .for example, in the plastic clay of the Brown Coal formation at Littmitz, near Carlsbad, in Bohemia, at which place it has been extensively mined for the manufacture of sulphur and ferrous sulphate. In the Chalk of the south-east of England nodules of marcasite with a fibrous radiated structure are abundant, and in the Chalk Marl between Dover and Folkestone fine twinned groups of " spear pyrites " are common. The mineral is also met with in metalliferous veins, though much less frequently than pyrites; for example the "cockscomb pyrites" of the lead mines of Derbyshire ana Cumberland. (L. J. S.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)