Minerals can be described by various physical properties which relate to their chemical structure and composition. Common distinguishing characteristics include crystal structure and habit, hardness, lustre, diaphaneity, colour,streak, tenacity, cleavage, fracture, parting, and specific gravity. More specific tests for minerals include magnetism, taste or smell, radioactivity and reaction to acid.
Minerals are classified by key chemical constituents; the two dominant systems are the Dana classification and the Strunz classification. The silicate class of minerals is subdivided into six subclasses by the degree ofpolymerization in the chemical structure. All silicate minerals have a base unit of a [SiO4]4− silica tetrahedra—that is, a silicon cation coordinated by four oxygen anions, which gives the shape of a tetrahedron. These tetrahedra can be polymerized to give the subclasses: orthosilicates (no polymerization, thus single tetrahedra), disilicates (two tetrahedra bonded together), cyclosilicates (rings of tetrahedra), inosilicates (chains of tetrahedra), phyllosilicates (sheets of tetrahedra), and tectosilicates (three-dimensional network of tetrahedra). Other important mineral groups include the native elements, sulfides, oxides, halides, carbonates, sulfates, and phosphates.
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