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Hematite Sphere

Hematite Sphere

With circular crossed polarized light the numerous crystal domains within the sphere tend to merge but some boundaries are still evident. This small crystallite structure is typical of rapidly formed hematite and even most "rust" or corrosion generated hematite. The spherical shape indicates formation from the melt. The sparks from grinding iron tend to result in hematite spheres. When not viewed with crossed polarizing filters this particle would appear as opaque. This particle was from an office adjacent to a manufacturing facility that was undergoing renovation. Construction debris, of which this hematite sphere was part, was causing health complaints.

Transmitted Crossed Circular Polarized Light


Hematite is Fe2O3. It is the fully oxidized form of iron. Hematite is a natural mineral but can also be the endpoint of iron corrosion or the result of burning iron. The sparks that come from abrasive grinding of iron are burning fragments of iron that result in small spheres of hematite.

Significance in the Environment:

Hematite spheres are a good indication of abrasive grinding of iron but may also be produced by the spark from a lighter. Welding or torch cutting of iron or iron alloys tends to produce magnetite spheres but may produce some rare hematite spheres. The hematite spheres tend to be closer to the source than the magnetite spheres because the magnetite spheres tend to be balloons that travel much farther (see magnetite spheres). Hematite spheres may also be formed by burning powdered coal but more often the iron minerals in the coal color the glass produced as flyash. Hematite that is the end product of iron corrosion tends to be polycrystalline with the individual crystals rarely larger than about 2 micrometers in diameter. Natural hematite tends to form larger crystals and can be identified as natural background by this feature. Smaller crystal size doesn't exclude a natural source but its natural origin will be indicated by the presence of typical associates rather than crystal size.

Characteristic Features:

Hematite has a refractive indices of about 2.9 for epsilon and 3.2 for omega for a birefringence of about 0.3. Crystallographically it belongs to the trigonal subclass of the hexagonal crystal system. It is essentially opaque to blue light and only transmits a small amount in red light. As a result it will often appear opaque with brightfield illumination but will show as blood red in crossed polarized light. It has a reflectivity of about 30% and appears red with reflected darkfield illumination. In polished sections viewed with reflected brightfield illumination it often shows deep red internal reflections.

Associated Particles:

Hematite spheres will be associated with cigarette ash, charred leaf, or other charred plant material if from a lighter. Hematite spheres will be associated with other glassy flyash if from a combustion source. They will be associated with abrasives such as emery, silicon carbide, or even diamond and abraded metal if the source is metal grinding. Hematite will always be associated with limonite, goethite, and sub-oxides if the source is iron corrosion.


Deer, W. A., R. A. Howie, and J. Zussman, AN INTRODCUTION TO THE ROCK-FORMING MINERALS, ISBN 0-582-30094-0, pp. 540-542, 1992.