Hardness scales

Hardness scales

One of the most useful diagnostic properties is hardness, a measure of the resistance of a mineral to abrasion or scratching. This property is determined by rubbing a mineral of unknown hardness against one of known hardness or vice versa.

A numerical value of hardness can be obtained by using the Mohs scale of hardness, which consists of 10 minerals arranged in order from 1 (softest) to 10 (hardest), as shown in Figure A.

It should be noted that the Mohs scale is a relative ranking and does not imply that a mineral with a hardness of 2, such as gypsum, is twice as hard as a mineral with a hardness of 1, like talc. In fact, gypsum is only slightly harder than talc, as Figure B indicates.

In the laboratory, common objects used to determine the hardness of a mineral can include a human fingernail, which has a hardness of about 2.5, a copper penny (3.5), and a piece of glass (5.5). The mineral gypsum, which has a hardness of 2, can be easily scratched with a fingernail.
On the other hand, the mineral calcite, which has a hardness of 3, will scratch a fingernail but will not scratch glass. Quartz, one of the hardest common minerals, will easily scratch glass. Diamonds, hardest of all, scratch anything, including other diamonds.


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