By Chris BrownA rock containing steatitic crystals that could become a new gemstone has been discovered in China.
The discovery is being described as the biggest discovery in the history of the gemstone industry.
A team of scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (NIIIST) has discovered the rarest of rare gems, called the ‘steatite’ in Chinese.
Scientists say the crystals are the oldest and the largest known samples of the mineral, which are extremely difficult to make.
“It’s really remarkable that this is a rare find, and the discovery is so important because we have been studying the steatitite for a long time and we’ve found this rare mineral that is not found anywhere else,” said NIIIST Professor Jiajie Chen, from the CAS.
The researchers found the crystals in the southern city of Wuhan, which is about 60 kilometres (37 miles) south of Shanghai.
The crystals are of rare earth element-rich, non-alkaline minerals.
The first known specimens of the material were found in China in the 1990s, but they were not found in the region in the same scale as the new discovery.
“We thought it might be the steattite, but we weren’t sure,” said Professor Chen.
The team found that the crystals were very hard, and they were also very small, which means they were very unlikely to be found anywhere.
“If you look at a diamond or an emerald, you can see a tiny crystal, but you can’t see a very big crystal,” he said.
“This is really quite surprising.”
Scientists think the crystals could be used as a base for the construction of new minerals, or to make the material stronger, or even to make it more stable.
“There are some other rare earth elements that are similar to the steathite and so we think that there is potential for using these materials as a mineral source for other materials,” said Dr James O’Neill, from NIIIS.
The find was announced by CAS chair Professor Jie Zhao.
“In this context, it is a very exciting discovery because it is an important new source of rare-earth elements,” she said.
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