The pyroxenes (commonly abbreviated to Px) are a group of important rock-forming inosilicate minerals found in many igneous and metamorphic rocks. Pyroxenes have the general formula XY(Si,Al)2O6, where X represents calcium, sodium, iron (II) or magnesium and more rarely zinc, manganese or lithium, and Y represents ions of smaller size, such as chromium, aluminium, iron (III), magnesium, cobalt, manganese, scandium, titanium, vanadium or even iron (II). Although aluminium substitutes extensively for silicon in silicates such as feldspars and amphiboles, the substitution occurs only to a limited extent in most pyroxenes. They share a common structure consisting of single chains of silica tetrahedra. Pyroxenes that crystallize in the monoclinic system are known as clinopyroxenes and those that crystallize in the orthorhombic system are known as orthopyroxenes.

Microscopic image Pyroxene
A thin section of green pyroxene

The name pyroxene is derived from the Ancient Greek words for fire (πυρ) and stranger (ξένος). Pyroxenes were so named because of their presence in volcanic lavas, where they are sometimes seen as crystals embedded in volcanic glass; it was assumed they were impurities in the glass, hence the name "fire strangers". However, they are simply early-forming minerals that crystallized before the lava erupted.

Peridot in basalt
Mantle-peridotite xenolith from San Carlos Indian Reservation, Gila Co., Arizona, USA. The xenolith is dominated by green peridot olivine, together with black orthopyroxene and spinel crystals, and rare grass-green diopside grains. The fine-grained gray rock in this image is the host basalt.(unknown scale)

The upper mantle of Earth is composed mainly of olivine and pyroxene. Pyroxene and feldspar are the major minerals in basalt and gabbro.

Pyroxene (diopside) crystals from Afghanistan
Orthopyroxenite (ALH84001)
Figure 1: A sample of pyroxenite (meteorite ALH84001 from Mars), a rock consisting mostly of pyroxene minerals

Chemistry and nomenclature of the pyroxenes

Pyrox names
Figure 2: The nomenclature of the calcium, magnesium, iron pyroxenes.

The chain silicate structure of the pyroxenes offers much flexibility in the incorporation of various cations and the names of the pyroxene minerals are primarily defined by their chemical composition. Pyroxene minerals are named according to the chemical species occupying the X (or M2) site, the Y (or M1) site, and the tetrahedral T site. Cations in Y (M1) site are closely bound to 6 oxygens in octahedral coordination. Cations in the X (M2) site can be coordinated with 6 to 8 oxygen atoms, depending on the cation size. Twenty mineral names are recognised by the International Mineralogical Association's Commission on New Minerals and Mineral Names and 105 previously used names have been discarded (Morimoto et al., 1989).

A typical pyroxene has mostly silicon in the tetrahedral site and predominately ions with a charge of +2 in both the X and Y sites, giving the approximate formula XYT2O6. The names of the common calcium–iron–magnesium pyroxenes are defined in the 'pyroxene quadrilateral' shown in Figure 2. The enstatite-ferrosilite series ([Mg,Fe]SiO3) contain up to 5 mol.% calcium and exists in three polymorphs, orthorhombic orthoenstatite and protoenstatite and monoclinic clinoenstatite (and the ferrosilite equivalents). Increasing the calcium content prevents the formation of the orthorhombic phases and pigeonite ([Mg,Fe,Ca][Mg,Fe]Si2O6) only crystallises in the monoclinic system. There is not complete solid solution in calcium content and Mg-Fe-Ca pyroxenes with calcium contents between about 15 and 25 mol.% are not stable with respect to a pair of exolved crystals. This leads to a miscibility gap between pigeonite and augite compositions. There is an arbitrary separation between augite and the diopside-hedenbergite (CaMgSi2O6 – CaFeSi2O6) solid solution. The divide is taken at >45 mol.% Ca. As the calcium ion cannot occupy the Y site, pyroxenes with more than 50 mol.% calcium are not possible. A related mineral wollastonite has the formula of the hypothetical calcium end member but important structural differences mean that it is not grouped with the pyroxenes.

Na pyrox trig
Figure 3: The nomenclature of the sodium pyroxenes

Magnesium, calcium and iron are by no means the only cations that can occupy the X and Y sites in the pyroxene structure. A second important series of pyroxene minerals are the sodium-rich pyroxenes, corresponding to nomenclature shown in Figure 3. The inclusion of sodium, which has a charge of +1, into the pyroxene implies the need for a mechanism to make up the "missing" positive charge. In jadeite and aegirine this is added by the inclusion of a +3 cation (aluminium and iron(III) respectively) on the Y site. Sodium pyroxenes with more than 20 mol.% calcium, magnesium or iron(II) components are known as omphacite and aegirine-augite, with 80% or more of these components the pyroxene falls in the quadrilateral shown in Figure 2.

Table 1 shows the wide range of other cations that can be accommodated in the pyroxene structure, and indicates the sites that they occupy.

Table 1: Order of cation occupation in the pyroxenes
T Si Al Fe3+
Y Al Fe3+ Ti4+ Cr V Ti3+ Zr Sc Zn Mg Fe2+ Mn
X Mg Fe2+ Mn Li Ca Na

In assigning ions to sites, the basic rule is to work from left to right in this table, first assigning all silicon to the T site and then filling the site with the remaining aluminium and finally iron(III); extra aluminium or iron can be accommodated in the Y site and bulkier ions on the X site. Not all the resulting mechanisms to achieve charge neutrality follow the sodium example above, and there are several alternative schemes:

  1. Coupled substitutions of 1+ and 3+ ions on the X and Y sites respectively. For example, Na and Al give the jadeite (NaAlSi2O6) composition.
  2. Coupled substitution of a 1+ ion on the X site and a mixture of equal numbers of 2+ and 4+ ions on the Y site. This leads to e.g. NaFe2+0.5Ti4+0.5Si2O6.
  3. The Tschermak substitution where a 3+ ion occupies the Y site and a T site leading to e.g. CaAlAlSiO6.

In nature, more than one substitution may be found in the same mineral.

Pyroxene minerals

First X-ray diffraction view of Martian soil - CheMin analysis reveals feldspar, pyroxenes, olivine and more (Curiosity rover at "Rocknest", October 17, 2012).[1]

See also


  1. ^ Brown, Dwayne (October 30, 2012). "NASA Rover's First Soil Studies Help Fingerprint Martian Minerals". NASA. Retrieved October 31, 2012.

External links

Adirondack (Mars)

Adirondack is the nickname for Mars Exploration Rover Spirit's first target rock. Scientists chose Adirondack to be Spirit's first target rock after considering another, called Sashimi, that would have been a shorter, straight-ahead drive. Spirit traversed the sandy martian terrain at Gusev Crater to arrive in front of this football-sized rock on January 18, 2004, just three days after it successfully rolled off the lander.

Scientists named the angular rock after the Adirondack mountain range in New York.

The name "Adirondacks" is an Anglicized version of the Mohawk ratirontaks, meaning "they eat trees", a derogatory name which the Mohawk historically applied to the Algonquian-speaking tribes of the Adirondack Mountains; when food was scarce, the Algonquians would eat the buds and bark of trees.

The rock was selected as Spirit's first target because its dust-free, flat surface was ideally suited for grinding. Clean surfaces also are better for examining a rock's top coating. Spirit also returned microscopic images and Mössbauer spectrometer readings of Adirondack taken the day before the rover developed computer and communication problems on January 22, 2004. Both are unprecedented investigations of any rock on another planet. The microscopic images indicate Adirondack is a hard, crystalline rock. The peaks large and small in Adirondack's electromagnetic spectrum reveal that the minerals in the rock include olivine, pyroxene and magnetite - a common composition in volcanic basalt rocks on Earth.

Adirondack turned out to be typical of the other rocks on the plains. Spirit rover's instruments determined that Adironack and other rocks of the plains contain the minerals pyroxene, olivine, plagioclase, and magnetite. These rocks can be classified in different ways. The amounts and types of minerals make the rocks primitive basalts—also called picritic basalts. The rocks are similar to ancient terrestrial rocks called basaltic komatiites. Rocks of the plains also resemble the basaltic shergottites, meteorites which came from Mars. One classification system compares the amount of alkali elements to the amount of silica on a graph; in this system, Gusev plains rocks lie near the junction of basalt, picrobasalt, and tephite. The Irvine-Barager classification calls them basalts.

Adirondack has been very slightly altered, probably by thin films of water because they are softer and contain veins of light colored material that may be bromine compounds, as well as coatings or rinds. It is thought that small amounts of water may have gotten into cracks inducing mineralization processes.

Coatings on the rocks in the plains may have occurred when rocks were buried and interacted with thin films of water and dust.

One sign that they were altered was that it was easier to grind these rocks compared to the same types of rocks found on Earth.


Augite is a common rock-forming pyroxene mineral with formula (Ca,Na)(Mg,Fe,Al,Ti)(Si,Al)2O6. The crystals are monoclinic and prismatic. Augite has two prominent cleavages, meeting at angles near 90 degrees.

Bounce Rock

Bounce Rock is a football-sized primarily pyroxene rock found within the Margaritifer Sinus quadrangle (MC-19) region of the planet Mars. It was discovered and observed by the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity in April 2004. The rock was named for the fact that it was struck by Opportunity as the craft bounced to a stop during its landing stage.

Bounce Rock bears a striking resemblance to a class of meteorites found on Earth known as shergottites, that are believed to have originated from Mars.

Bopolu (crater) was identified as a possible source of Bounce rock.


A Chondrule (from Ancient Greek χόνδρος chondros, grain) is a round grain found in a chondrite. Chondrules form as molten or partially molten droplets in space before being accreted to their parent asteroids. Because chondrites represent one of the oldest solid materials within the Solar System and are believed to be the building blocks of the planetary system, it follows that an understanding of the formation of chondrules is important to understand the initial development of the planetary system.


Diopside is a monoclinic pyroxene mineral with composition MgCaSi2O6. It forms complete solid solution series with hedenbergite (FeCaSi2O6) and augite, and partial solid solutions with orthopyroxene and pigeonite. It forms variably colored, but typically dull green crystals in the monoclinic prismatic class. It has two distinct prismatic cleavages at 87 and 93° typical of the pyroxene series. It has a Mohs hardness of six, a Vickers hardness of 7.7 GPa at a load of 0.98 N, and a specific gravity of 3.25 to 3.55. It is transparent to translucent with indices of refraction of nα=1.663–1.699, nβ=1.671–1.705, and nγ=1.693–1.728. The optic angle is 58° to 63°.


Enstatite is a mineral; the magnesium endmember of the pyroxene silicate mineral series enstatite (MgSiO3) – ferrosilite (FeSiO3). The magnesium rich members of the solid solution series are common rock-forming minerals found in igneous and metamorphic rocks. The intermediate composition, (Mg,Fe)SiO3, has historically been known as hypersthene, although this name has been formally abandoned and replaced by orthopyroxene. When determined petrographically or chemically the composition is given as relative proportions of enstatite (En) and ferrosilite (Fs) (e.g., En80Fs20).


Gabbro ( ) is a phaneritic (coarse-grained), mafic intrusive igneous rock formed from the slow cooling of magnesium-rich and iron-rich magma into a holocrystalline mass deep beneath the Earth's surface. Slow-cooling, coarse-grained gabbro is chemically equivalent to rapid-cooling, fine-grained basalt. Much of the Earth's oceanic crust is made of gabbro, formed at mid-ocean ridges. Gabbro is also found as plutons associated with continental volcanism. Due to its variant nature, the term "gabbro" may be applied loosely to a wide range of intrusive rocks, many of which are merely "gabbroic".


Harzburgite, an ultramafic, igneous rock, is a variety of peridotite consisting mostly of the two minerals olivine and low-calcium (Ca) pyroxene (enstatite); it is named for occurrences in the Harz Mountains of Germany. It commonly contains a few percent chromium-rich spinel as an accessory mineral. Garnet-bearing harzburgite is much less common, found most commonly as xenoliths in kimberlite.

Harzburgite typically forms by the extraction of partial melts from the more pyroxene-rich peridotite called lherzolite. The molten magma extracted from harzburgite may then erupt on the surface as basalt. If partial melting of the harzburgite continues, all of the pyroxene may be extracted from it to form magma, leaving behind the pyroxene-poor peridotite called dunite. Harzburgite may also form by the accumulation of olivine and low-Ca pyroxene in large magma chambers of basalt deep in continental crust (layered intrusions).

IIICD meteorite

IIICD meteorites are a group of primitive achondrites. They are classified in a clan together with the IAB meteorites and the winonaites.


Jadeite is a pyroxene mineral with composition NaAlSi2O6. It is monoclinic. It has a Mohs hardness of about 6.5 to 7.0 depending on the composition. The mineral is dense, with a specific gravity of about 3.4.


Jeffersonite is a dark green pyroxene mineral, a manganese zinc enriched variety of augite (Ca(Mn,Zn,Fe)Si2O6), sometimes compared to aegirine. Jeffersonite is not a recognized mineral name.

It occurs in pegmatites where it can form crystals up to 30 cm (12 in) long and in the contact metamorphic zone between limestone and various intrusive rocks. It is reported from the Sterling Hill Mine, Franklin, New Jersey, in South Australia and Sweden.


Lodranites are a small group of primitive achondrite meteorites that consists of meteoric iron and silicate minerals. Olivine and pyroxene make up most of the silicate minerals. Like all primitive achondrites lodranites share similarities with chondrites and achondrites.


Orthopyroxenite is an ultramafic and ultrabasic rock that is almost exclusively made from the mineral orthopyroxene, the orthorhombic version of pyroxene and a type of pyroxenite. It can have up to a few percent of olivine and clinopyroxene.

Orthopyroxenites can also occur on other planets. ALH 84001 is a Martian meteorite that can be classified as an orthopyroxenite. It is the only meteorite found with that composition and the only member of the Martian orthopyroxenite group of meteorites.

Pyroxene pallasite grouplet

The pyroxene pallasite grouplet is a subdivision of the pallasite meteorites (stony-irons).The grouplet is named "pyroxene pallasites" because they are the only pallasites that contain pyroxene. The grouplet was proposed in 1995. It currently has only 2 members: the Vermillion and Yamato 8451 meteorite. Both meteorites contain pyroxene and have a number of other similarities: for example their pyroxene composition, rare-earth element concentrations, and oxygen isotope ratios. However, there are also indicators against the grouping of these two meteorites: for example the texture and occurrence of cohenite in the Vermillion meteorite and the differing siderophile trace element concentrations.


Pyroxenite is an ultramafic igneous rock consisting essentially of minerals of the pyroxene group, such as augite, diopside, hypersthene, bronzite or enstatite. Pyroxenites are classified into clinopyroxenites, orthopyroxenites, and the websterites which contain both types of pyroxenes (see diagram below). Closely allied to this group are the hornblendites, consisting essentially of hornblende and other amphiboles.

They are essentially of igneous origin, though some pyroxenites are included in the metamorphic Lewisian complex of Scotland. The pyroxene-rich rocks, which result from the type of contact metamorphism known as pyroxene-hornfels facies, have siliceous sediment or basaltic protoliths, and are respectively metapelites and metabasites.


Pyroxferroite (Fe2+,Ca)SiO3 is a single chain inosilicate. It is mostly composed of iron, silicon and oxygen, with smaller fractions of calcium and several other metals. Together with armalcolite and tranquillityite, it is one of the three minerals which were discovered on the Moon. It was then found in Lunar and Martian meteorites as well as a mineral in the Earth's crust. Pyroxferroite can also be produced by annealing synthetic clinopyroxene at high pressures and temperatures. The mineral is metastable and gradually decomposes at ambient conditions, but this process can take billions of years.


Rhodonite is a manganese inosilicate, (Mn, Fe, Mg, Ca)SiO3 and member of the pyroxenoid group of minerals, crystallizing in the triclinic system. It commonly occurs as cleavable to compact masses with a rose-red color (the name comes from the Greek ῥόδος rhodos, rosy), often tending to brown because of surface oxidation.

Rhodonite crystals often have a thick tabular habit, but are rare. It has a perfect, prismatic cleavage, almost at right angles. The hardness is 5.5–6.5, and the specific gravity is 3.4–3.7; luster is vitreous, being less frequently pearly on cleavage surfaces. The manganese is often partly replaced by iron, magnesium, calcium, and sometimes zinc, which may sometimes be present in considerable amounts; a greyish-brown variety containing as much as 20% of calcium oxide is called bustamite; fowlerite is a zinciferous variety containing 7% of zinc oxide.

The inosilicate (chain silicate) structure of rhodonite has a repeat unit of five silica tetrahedra. The rare polymorph pyroxmangite, formed at different conditions of pressure and temperature, has the same chemical composition but a repeat unit of seven tetrahedra.

Rhodonite has also been worked as an ornamental stone. In the iron and manganese mines at Pajsberg near Filipstad and Långban in Värmland, Sweden, small brilliant and translucent crystals (pajsbergite) and cleavage masses occur. Fowlerite occurs as large, rough crystals, somewhat resembling pink feldspar, with franklinite and zinc ores in granular limestone at Franklin Furnace in New Jersey.

Rhodonite is the official gemstone of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.


Spodumene is a pyroxene mineral consisting of lithium aluminium inosilicate, LiAl(SiO3)2, and is a source of lithium. It occurs as colorless to yellowish, purplish, or lilac kunzite (see below), yellowish-green or emerald-green hiddenite, prismatic crystals, often of great size. Single crystals of 14.3 m (47 ft) in size are reported from the Black Hills of South Dakota, United States.The normal low-temperature form α-spodumene is in the monoclinic system whereas the high-temperature β-spodumene crystallizes in the tetragonal system. The normal α-spodumene converts to β-spodumene at temperatures above 900 °C. Crystals are typically heavily striated parallel to the principal axis. Crystal faces are often etched and pitted with triangular markings.

Vermillion meteorite

The Vermillion meteorite is a pallasite (stony-iron) meteorite and one of two members of the pyroxene pallasite grouplet.

Common minerals


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