6.1 What Is A Rock?

A rock is a solid mass of geological materials. Geological materials include individual mineral crystals, inorganic non-mineral solids like glass, pieces broken from other rocks, and even fossils. The geological materials in rocks may be inorganic, but they can also include organic materials such as the partially decomposed plant matter preserved in coal. A rock can be composed of only one type of geological material or mineral, but many are composed of several types (Figure 6.2).

Image contains: Granite, a rock made of minerals quartz, potassium feldspar, and biotite. Quartzite, a rock made of tiny quartz crystals. A crystal of the mineral quartz, a crystal of the mineral potassium feldspar, and a rock of biotite crystals.
Figure 6.2 Rocks versus minerals. Rocks in the image are made up of crystals of one or more minerals. Source: Karla Panchuk (2021), CC BY-NC-SA. Photographs by R. Weller/ Cochise College and James St. John. Click for attributions.

Concept Check: Rock or Mineral?

Whether we refer to something as a rock or mineral may depend on context. Here is a story to illustrate. Fill in each blank space with either rock or mineral.

Emily went for a walk and found two interesting geological specimens. One was white and the other was multi-coloured. After investigating, she learned that the white               was quartzite, and made entirely of crystals of the              quartz. Even though it was quartzite, she added it to her collection as an example of quartz because it had the same physical properties.

Emily learned that the multi-coloured              was granite. Granite contains quartz crystals, but it also contains crystals of the              potassium feldspar and the              biotite.

One day Emily’s friend Liz came for a visit because she heard that Emily could show her what quartz looked like. Unfortunately, Emily had put her specimen collection with quartz samples in a safe place, so try as she might, she couldn’t find it. Instead, she showed Liz the granite and pointed out which crystals within the granite              were the              quartz.

To check your answers, navigate to the above link to view the interactive version of this activity.

Three Main Types of Rock

Rocks are grouped into three main categories based on how they form. Igneous rocks form when melted rock cools and solidifies. Sedimentary rocks form when fragments of other rocks are buried, compressed, and cemented together; or when minerals precipitate from solution, either directly or with the help of an organism. Metamorphic rocks form when heat and pressure alter a pre-existing rock. Although temperatures can be very high, metamorphism does not involve melting of the rock.

Do You Know Your Rock Types?


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