1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Copper-pyrites

COPPER-PYRITES, or Chalcopyrite, a copper iron sulphide (CUFeS2), an important ore of copper. The name copper-pyrites is from the Ger. Kupferkies, which was used as far back as 1546 by G. Agricola; chalcopyrite (from χαλκός, “copper,” and pyrites) was proposed by J. F. Henckel in his Pyritologia, oder Kiess-Historie (1725). By the ancients copper-pyrites was included with other minerals under the term pyrites, though the copper-ore from Cyprus referred to by Aristotle as chalcites may possibly have been identical with this mineral.

Chalcopyrite crystallizes in the tetragonal system with inclined hemihedrism, but the form is so nearly cubic that it was not recognized as tetragonal until accurate measurements were made in 1822. Crystals are usually tetrahedral in aspect, owing to the large development of the sphenoid P {111}. The faces of this form are dull and striated, whilst the smaller faces of the complementary sphenoid P′ {111} (fig. 1) are bright and smooth. The combination of these two forms produces a figure resembling an octahedron, the angle between P and P′ being 70° 7½′, corresponding to the angle 70° 32′ of the regular octahedron. The other faces shown in fig. 1 are the basal pinacoid, a {001}, and two square pyramids, b {101} and c {201}. Crystals are usually twinned, and are often complex and difficult to decipher. There are three twin-laws, the twin-planes being (111), (101) and (110) respectively. Twinning according to the first law is effected by rotation about an axis normal to the sphenoidal face (111), the resulting form resembling the twins of blende and spinel. Twinning according to the second law can only be explained by reflection across the plane (101), not by rotation about an axis; chalcopyrite affords an excellent example of this comparatively rare type of symmetric twinning. Interpenetration twins (fig. 2) with (110) as twin-plane are of very rare occurrence.

EB1911 Copper Pyrites.jpg
Fig. 1. Fig. 2.

Crystals have imperfect cleavages parallel to the eight faces of the pyramid c {201}. The fracture is conchoidal, and the material is brittle. Hardness 4; specific gravity 4.2. The colour is brass-yellow, and the lustre metallic; the streak, or colour of the powder, is greenish-black. The mineral is especially liable to surface alteration, tarnishing with beautiful iridescent colours; a blue colour usually predominates, owing probably to the alteration of the chalcopyrite to covellite (CuS). The massive and compact mineral frequently exhibits this iridescent tarnish, and is consequently known to miners as “peacock ore” or “peacock copper.” The massive mineral sometimes occurs in mammillary and botryoidal forms with a smooth brassy surface, and is then known to Cornish miners as “blister-copper-ore.”

Chalcopyrite or copper-pyrites may be readily distinguished from iron-pyrites (or pyrites), which it somewhat resembles in appearance, by its deeper colour and lower degree of hardness: the former is easily scratched by a knife, whilst the latter can only be scratched with difficulty or not at all. Chalcopyrite is decomposed by nitric acid with separation of sulphur and formation of a green solution; ammonia added in excess to this solution changes the green colour to deep blue and precipitates red ferric hydroxide.

The chemical formula CuFeS2 corresponds with the percentage composition Cu=34.5, Fe=30.5, S=35.0. Analyses usually, however, show the presence of more iron, owing to the intimate admixture of iron-pyrites. Traces of gold, silver, selenium or thallium are sometimes present, and the mineral is sometimes worked as an ore of gold or silver.

Chalcopyrite is of wide distribution and is the commonest of the ores of copper. It occurs in metalliferous veins, often in association with iron-pyrites, chalybite, blende, &c., and in Cornwall and Devon, where it is abundant, with cassiterite. The large deposits at Falun in Sweden occur with serpentine in gneiss, and those at Montecatini, near Volterra in the province of Pisa, serpentine and gabbro. At Rammelsberg in the Harz it forms a bed in argillaceous schist, and at Mansfield in Thuringia it occurs in the Kupferschiefer with ores of nickel and cobalt. Extensive deposits are mined in the United States, particularly at Butte in Montana, and in Namaqualand, South Africa. Well-crystallized specimens are met with at many localities; for example, formerly at Wheal Towan (hence the name towanite, which has been applied to the species) in the St Agnes district of Cornwall, at Freiberg in Saxony, and Joplin, Missouri.  (L. J. S.)