The Minerals of Star Trek

One of the reasons we all love Star Trek, is because of its amazing ability to combine science with fantasy and its many possibilities. Star Trek has featured topics like astronomy, biology, and spaceship technology, but also a ton of geology.

The crew of the Enterprise visits mining colonies in many of its episodes and many of their missions include searching for valuable crystals and minerals as well as using raw minerals for fuel.

In the Star Trek series, over 125 minerals are mentioned, with 23 being real minerals found here on Earth. One of the most famous of these minerals is lithium, on later episodes referred to as dilithium crystals, the only material that can be used in matter-antimatter reactors on board Federation spaceships. The lithium crystal was the first mineral to be mentioned on Star Trek and the prop used on the show was an actual quartz crystal.

In the episode “Obsession”, Spock analyzes a rock made of fictional metal tritanium, using the geological tricorder. This mineral is said to be 21.4 times as hard as a diamond and becomes useful in constructing an indestructible spaceship hull.

The fictional mineral pergium is being mined in the episode “The Devil in the Dark,” It is given the atomic number 112 and symbol Pe. In this episode, Kirk and Spock beam down to the planet Janus IV to investigate the murder of over 50 miners deep in the planet’s bedrock. Pergium is considered to be a valuable energy source and the minors cannot just up and vacate the planet. Kirk and Spock discover that a subterranean, but intelligent silicon based life form is at the root of these attacks because they feel the minors are infringing in their territory.

(Spoiler)
An agreement is eventually reached whereby the Horta will drill through the rock so long as the minors do not interfere with them.

Both imaginary and real minerals are mentioned in the Star Trek world, with some of these minerals being involved in stories that sound quite probable while others that are completely far fetched. Many of the chemical and physical aspects of certain minerals mentioned in Star Trek defy science, yet that is an essential element of science fiction and fantasy.

Other fictitious mineral mentioned include the benomite crystal, a very rare mineral used to create a quantum slipstream, as well as many types of fictional gemstones such as the maraji crystal, the rigelian flame gem, and the separ gemstone.

Real minerals mentioned on Star Trek include aragonite, which made up the cave walls on the planet Terra Nova, calcite, coal, diamond, emerald, granite, gold, iridium, limestone, platinum, quartz, ruby, and even salt.

Star Trek is not only inspirational, but the show and its films that followed pose interesting scientific and ethical questions. It gives a hopeful view for the future when it comes to science, technology, and the exploration of space in the final frontier.

What are sedimentary rocks?

The sediment, made up of sand, mud and pebbles constitute sedimentary rocks, which develop from other rocks that have been worn down by the environment over the years.

In order to determine the age of the layers of rocks that have accumulated over the millions of years on our planet, we need to look at sedimentary rocks, which are accumulations of rock sediments.

There are three basic types of sedimentary rocks:

Clastic sedimentary rocks

such as breccia, conglomerate,sandstone, siltstone, and shale are formed from mechanical weathering debris.

Chemical sedimentary rocks

such as rock salt, iron ore,chert, flint, some dolomites, and some limestones, form when dissolved minerals precipitate from solution.

Organic sedimentary rocks

such as coal, some dolomites, and some limestones, form from the accumulation of plant or animal debris.
More specifically, there are a number of processes that are involved in the formation of sedimentary rock:

Weathering (aka erosion)

which is the result of the friction of waves, transportation where the sediment is carried off by a current and deposition and compaction, where the sediment is flattened.

Lithification (aka rock formation)

develops as the sediment pressure squeezes the sediment into layered solids.
By reviewing the different layers of sediment, scientist can tell when rock formations and minerals began to materialize.

Where to Find Minerals

Not your most active social environment or easy to get to but, for the die-hard mineral lover, mines are your best option. There, you will find minerals, ore,  gemstones and precious metals. Mines are ‘gems’ (pun intentional) that contain large amounts of these materials; however, access to them is not easy.

in the earlier years, it was straightforward to obtain permission to enter a mine and obtain minerals. Collectors would enter the mining areas and extract the minerals without interfering with the workers or collect on weekends. This is rarely possible today, due to insurance liabilities and other  bureaucracies. Many famous localities that have been abandoned are also difficult to access, due to trespassing laws.

Thus, the only way to collect a mineral is to either have connections to a mine operator or get permission from a property owner. Another possibility is to collect with a mineral group or club, which works on getting the permits and permission to enter active quarries where an individual would not be permitted.

Some minerals are also found in on the side of roads, highways, and railroads. Construction sites have also yielded many interesting specimens; however, these too have trespassing laws. Contacting the building management would b

The Makeup of Minerals

As mentioned in the Difference (of rocks and minerals) article, minerals are naturally occurring inorganic solids. There are around four thousand different minerals in the world. Each mineral is defined by a specific chemical composition and crystaline structure.

So let’s break this down to determine what a chemical composition is:

The Atom:

To begin with, we have to define the atom. An atom is the smallest unit of a chemical element, or to put it another way, atoms make up chemical elements. For example, the atom Aluminium, noted by the symbol AI makes up the element called Aluminum.

The (Chemical) Element:

We cannot see the Aluminum atom, but put billions of them together and you will be able to see the element; however, so small that you would need a microscope to see it. The more Aluminum atoms that are assembled, the more of the metal is visible. Of course, it would take trillions of assembled AI atoms for us to be able to visibly see even a small piece of aluminum.

There are 103 of these chemical elements discovered so far, as depicted by the well known Periodic Table of Elements

Compounds:

Some minerals are made up of just one chemical element, which means they contain only one type of atom. Copper is made up of only copper atoms, but most minerals are identified as chemical compounds, as they contain atoms from more than one chemical element;.

Molecules:

The molecules are the entities that contain the chemical compounds. Another example is sodium chloride, more commonly known as salt. This compound contains the the molecules of sodium and chloride atoms, or more precisely, one molecule contains one atom of sodium and one atom of chloride.

The Mineral:

Now, there is one more characteristic that makes a mineral what it is and that is – they have a specific chemical composition. That means that they are in an organized ‘atomic structure of specific patterns to form a crystal. And it this is how a crystal is formed; hence, the beautiful looking entities that have a specific molecular structure of more than one atomic element brings us the mineral.

Difference Between Rocks and Minerals

In the Breaking Bad series, Hank Schrader (Dean Morris) was a FDA detective, who on the side collected minerals, but these elements were (intentionally) mistaken for rocks throughout the show. So let’s get the record straight.

Minerals are naturally occurring compounds that are of a crystalline structure formed by geological processes. They contain a unique chemical structure and physical properties. Minerals are inorganic, meaning that they have not originated from living organisms, with respect to organic compounds that do originate from living organisms. Coal is an example of an organic material.

Rocks on the other hand are from organic compounds. They are solid, stony elements, that can be composed of a combination of minerals or other organic compounds.

Another way of putting it is a mineral is a solid formation that occurs naturally in the earth, while a rock is a solid combination of more than one mineral formations which is also occurring naturally.

An example of a mineral is quartz and feldspars, but if you combine them together, they become a rock, namely, granite.

Another example is limestone, which is a rock composed almost entirely of the mineral calcite.

See more here about the composition of minerals.

Howard Fensterman Minerals