The 366 daily episodes in 2014 were chronological snapshots of earth history, beginning with the Precambrian in January and on to the Cenozoic in December. You can find them all in the index in the right sidebar. In 2015, the daily episodes for each month were assembled into monthly packages (link in index at right), and a few new episodes were posted from 2015-18. Beginning in May 2019, I'm adding short entries to the blog (not as podcast episodes, at least not for now, sorry!) mostly taken from the Facebook Page posts. Thanks for your interest!

Monday, May 27, 2019

The Llanite Dike

Mineral Monday + Tectonic Tuesday.  Blue quartz is uncommon and is usually colored by inclusions of unusual minerals like crocidolite, tourmaline, or dumortierite. The purplish-blue quartz here, from north of Llano, Texas, is colored by inclusions of ilmenite (iron-titanium oxide). This rock is called llanite for its occurrence in the Llano Uplift of central Texas, and although similar rocks are found in other parts of the world, the variety name llanite really only applies to this location. On a sunny day, the blue quartz in the rocks has an opalescent sheen that sometimes seems to “wink” at you from the outcrop.

More generally, the rock is a rhyolite porphyry – rhyolite meaning pretty high in silica (a granite-like composition) and formed at or near the surface of the earth, and porphyry meaning it has two grain sizes – a fine matrix, with larger crystals of quartz (and microcline feldspar) suspended in that matrix. This implies that there were two periods of cooling, one at deeper depths where it took the larger crystals a longer time to cool (and grow), followed by a later, quicker period of cooling, so the matrix crystallized so fast the grains are very small, but the larger, older grains are still there within the matrix.

All that cooling happened about 1,093,000,000 years ago (almost 1.1 billion) during a time called the Grenville Orogeny (orogeny means mountain-building) when what is now central Texas was amalgamated to the main part of the North American continent. The llanite was probably an aspect of the intrusions of the Town Mountain Granite, which has similar age but crystallized at greater depth. It’s part of a long belt that extends with some discontinuity to central Tennessee, through Kentucky and Ohio, then northeast across Ontario, Quebec, and into Labrador. Rocks now in southern Scandinavia were part of the Grenville mountain belt, the result of a collision between continental masses that was assembling the supercontinent Rodinia over a long period of time, from about 1,250 million years ago to 980 million years ago.

The llanite, in the form of a narrow dike, intruded older rocks toward the end of the Grenville Orogeny. The mountain belt continued into Mexico, and rocks of similar age are found in Australia and Antarctica as well as South America today. Exactly how those rocks fit into the big picture is still debated, but one version of the assembled continent of Rodinia is in the comments.

At left, one reconstruction (others exist) of Rodinia about 750 million years ago, just before it began to break up. “Rodinia” is from Russian for “motherand,” or “to give birth,” alluding to this continent’s early place in the rifting-collision cycles (called Wilson Cycles with respect to ocean basins, for J. Tuzo Wilson) that have followed. Even so, Rodinia was probably preceded by at least one earlier supercontinent, named Columbia – but that’s debated.
The llanite dike intrudes older Precambrian metamorphic rocks called the Valley Spring Gneiss, which have a lot of magnetite in them. The Valley Spring Gneiss is dated to about 1,375,000,000 years ago or older.

The phenocrysts (“showing” or “visible” crystals) of blue quartz in the llanite are supposed to be “beta quartz,” a high-temperature, higher symmetry form of quartz that can crystallize only above 573ÂșC – in fact, it cannot even exist at surface conditions and pressures, so all “beta quartz” is actually a pseudomorph (“false form”) of regular quartz that has formed as the original beta quartz cooled. This little crystal (not from Llano) is probably one such pseudomorph. (Technically, since I knew you wanted even more jargon, it’s a paramorph rather than a pseudomorph, because while the crystal structure has changed, the chemistry has not.) The essentially perfect hexagonal symmetry of this crystal marks it as a beta-quartz shape, versus the lower (trigonal) uneven symmetry typically displayed by normal quartz. It’s possible for normal trigonal quartz to have equally developed faces that appear fully hexagonal, but it’s unusual.

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