barite - teaching hand specimen of massive variably colored barium sulfate, an unusually heavy non-metal
Barite is particularly dense for a non-metal - the density of barite immediately separates it from calcite, which it can resemble when in a vein. This massive barite is from a vein emplaced by hydrothermal fluids and shows some cleavage. Barite is variable in color due to impurities, ranging from colorless to brown. This is typical massive barite.
Challenge your students. This barite superficially looks like calcite or quartz, but is wonderfully heavy. The density immediately tells you that this is something else. A student who makes an identification without picking this up will likely be off the track and will learn a useful lesson.
Barite is interesting because it is ground to a powder and added to oil well drilling mud to increase its density. The mud is pumped down the inside of the drill string, exits at the drill bit, and flows up outside the drill pipe to carry out rock cuttings and to seal the well. The weight from the added barite prevents blowouts in gassy oil fields. The BP Horizon oil well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico occurred because the heavy drilling mud was being replaced by seawater, a costly mistake. Barite is also used as a filler in paint, in paper and in cosmetics.
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