Why do some grains appear black?
Grains in thin sections appear black for one of three possible reasons.
The grain is opaque and doesn't allow light to pass through. In a
thin section, this property is fairly well restricted to minerals that
would have a metallic appearance (metallic luster) in hand specimen.
This includes native metals such as copper, gold, or silver, metallic ores
that are typically sulfides or oxides, or graphite.
You can tell if a black-appearing mineral is opaque by making sure you
are looking through only one (or no) polarizing filter.
The other (following) effects occur only when both polarizing filters
This has nothing to do with life-forms from the past. Extinction
refers to the effect in which mineral grains go black once every ninety
degrees as the microscope stage is rotated. If you have access to
a polarizing light microscope (PLM) or are able to access the Virtual
Microscope web site (fast internet access desirable), you can observe
this effect. Many of the grains in the gallery
appear black for this reason. If the photomicrographs had been
taken when the stage was at a different angle, a different set of grains
would have appeared black.
Some materials do not display interference colors when both polarizing
filters are used, because they have only one index of refraction (see interference
colors discussion). These materials include any liquid,
as well as both natural and artificial glass (which are actually "supercooled
liquids"). These materials also include a few minerals such as garnet
and diamond. Instead of showing interference colors, these substances
appear black and will remain so throughout rotation.
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