Plagioclase

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Plagioclase is an important series of tectosilicate minerals within the feldspar family. Rather than referring to a particular mineral with a specific chemical composition, plagioclase is a solid solution series, more properly known as the plagioclase feldspar series (from the Greek "oblique fracture", in reference to its two cleavage angles). This was first shown by the German mineralogist Johann Friedrich Christian Hessel (1796 - 1872) in 1826. The series ranges from albite to anorthite endmembers (with respective compositions NaAlSi3O8 to CaAl2Si2O8), where sodium and calcium atoms can substitute for each other in the mineral's crystal lattice structure. Plagioclase in hand samples is often identified by its polysynthetic twinning or 'record-groove' effect.

Plagioclase is a major constituent mineral in the Earth's crust, and is consequently an important diagnostic tool in petrology for identifying the composition, origin and evolution of igneous rocks. Plagioclase is also a major constituent of rock in the highlands of the Earth's moon.

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Plagioclase series members

The composition of a plagioclase feldspar is typically denoted by its overall fraction of anorthite (%An) or albite (%Ab), and readily determined by measuring the plagioclase crystal's refractive index in crushed grain mounts, or its extinction angle in thin section under a polarizing microscope. The extinction angle is an optical characteristic and varies with the albite fraction (%Ab). There are several named plagioclase feldspars that fall between albite and anorthite in the series. The following table shows their compositions in terms of constituent anorthite and albite percentages.

Albite

Albite is named from the Latin albus, in reference to its unusually pure white color. It is a relatively common and important rock-making mineral associated with the more acid rock types and in pegmatite dikes, often with rarer minerals like tourmaline and beryl.

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