The carbonate mineral calcite is a chemical or biochemical calcium carbonate corresponding to the formula CaCO3 and is one of the most widely distributed minerals on the Earth's surface. It is a common constituent of sedimentary rocks, limestone in particular. It is also the primary mineral in metamorphic marble. It also occurs as a vein mineral in deposits from hot springs, and also occurs in caverns as stalactites and stalagmites. Calcite is often the primary constituent of the shells of marine organisms, e.g., plankton (such as coccoliths and planktic foraminifera), the hard parts of red algae, some sponges, brachiopoda, echinoderms, most bryozoa, and parts of the shells of some bivalves, such as oysters and rudists). Calcite represents the stable form of calcium carbonate; aragonite will change to calcite at 470°C.
Calcite crystals are hexagonal-rhombohedral, though actual calcite rhombohedrons are rare as natural crystals. However, they show a remarkable variety of habits including acute to obtuse rhombohedrons, tabular forms, prisms, or various scalenohedrons. Calcite exhibits several twinning types adding to the variety of observed forms. It may occur as fibrous, granular, lamellar, or compact. Cleavage is usually in three directions parallel to the rhombohedron form. Its fracture is conchoidal, but difficult to obtain.
It has a Mohs hardness of 3, a specific gravity of 2.71, and its luster is vitreous in crystallized varieties. Colour is white or colourless, though shades of gray, red, yellow, green, blue, violet, brown, or even black can occur when the mineral is charged with impurities. Calcite is transparent to opaque and may occasionally show phosphorescence or fluorescence. It is perhaps best known because of its power to produce strong double refraction of light, such that objects viewed through a clear piece of calcite appear doubled in all of their parts - a phenomenon first described by Rasmus Bartholin. A beautifully transparent variety used for optical purposes comes from Iceland, called Iceland spar. Acute scalenohedral crystals are sometimes referred to as "dogtooth spar".
Single crystals of calcite display an optical property called birefringence. The birefringent effect (using calcite) was first described by the Danish scientist Rasmus Bartholin in 1669. At a wavelength of ~590 nm calcite has ordinary and extraordinary refractive indices of 1.658 and 1.486, respectively.
Calcite, when heated, will decompose to calcium oxide and carbon dioxide, according to the reaction:
CaCO3?CaO + CO2
Calcite also reacts rapidly in contact with dilute hydrochloric acid of a pH lower than 5.4, causing effervescence and the release of carbon dioxide gas. This is the only commonly occurring carbonate mineral to do so, making calcite formations of limestone and marble easily identified. This acid test is a standard quick field and lab test for calcite used to distinguish limestone from dolomite or fine grained silicate rocks.
Calcite In Literature
A form of calcite, Iceland spar plays a critical role in the plot of Against the Day by Thomas Pynchon. The same form is refered to in The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman as it has very similar properties to a mineral found in that story.