Earth grows large crystals, rare elements in just minutes

Oct. 7 (UPI) — Scientists have gained new insights into crystal growth rates inside pegmatites, veinlike formations that host some of the planet’s biggest crystals, as well as valuable elements such as tantalum, niobium and lithium.

Magma cooling time typically controls the size of crystals — when magma cools quickly, crystals remain microscopic, and when it cools slowly, crystals have time to grow.

But pegmatite crystals appear to upend this logic, researchers said in a study published this week in the journal Nature Communications.

“Pegmatites cool relatively quickly, sometimes in just a few years, and yet they feature some of the largest crystals on Earth,” Cin-Ty Lee, professor of geology at Rice University, said in a news release. “The big question is really, ‘How can that be?'”

To determine the growth rates of pegmatite crystals, scientists turned to the rare elements that are often found inside pegmatites.

“It was more

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