Optically, calcite is uniaxial with negative bi-refringence, the index of refraction for the ordinary ray being greater than for the extraordinary ray; for sodium-light the former is 1.6585 and the latter 1.4862. The difference, 0.1723, between these two indices gives a measure of the bi-refringence or double refraction.
Although the double refraction of some other minerals is greater than that of calcite (e.g. for cinnabar it is 0.347, and for calomel 0.683), yet this phenomenon can be best demonstrated in calcite, since it is a mineral obtainable in large pieces of perfect transparency. Owing to the strong double refraction and the consequent wide separation of the two polarized rays of light traversing the crystal, an object viewed through a cleavage rhombohedron of Iceland-spar is seen double, hence the name doubly-refracting spar. Iceland-spar is extensively used in the construction of Nicol's prisms for polariscopes, polarizing microscopes and saccharimeters, and of dichroscopes for testing the pleochroism of gem-stones.
Chemically, calcite has the same composition as the orthorhombic aragonite (q.v.), these minerals being dimorphous forms of calcium carbonate. Well-crystallized material, such as Iceland-spar, usually consists of perfectly pure calcium carbonate, but at other times the calcium may be isomorphously replaced by small amounts of magnesium, barium, strontium, manganese, zinc or lead. When the elements named are present in large amount we have the varieties dolomitic calcite, baricalcite, strontianocalcite, ferrocalcite, manganocalcite, zincocalcite and plumbocalcite, respectively.
Mechanically enclosed impurities are also frequently present, and it is to these that the colour is often due. A remarkable case of enclosed impurities is presented by the so-called Fontainbleau limestone, which consists of crystals of calcite of an acute rhombohedral form (fig. 3) enclosing 50 to 60% of quartz-sand. Similar crystals, but with the form of an acute hexagonal pyramid, and enclosing 64% of sand, have recently been found in large quantity over a wide area in South Dakota, Nebraska and Wyoming. The case of hislopite, which encloses up to 20% of "green earth," has been noted above.
In addition to the varieties of calcite noted above, some others, depending on the state of aggregation of the material, are distinguished. A finely fibrous form is known as satin-spar (q.v.), a name also applied to fibrous gypsum: the most typical example of this is the snow-white material, often with a rosy tinge and a pronounced silky lustre, which occurs in veins in the Carboniferous shales of Alston Moor in Cumberland. Finely scaly varieties with a pearly lustre are known as argentine and aphrite (German Schaumspath); soft, earthy and dull white varieties as agaric mineral, rock-milk, rock-meal, etc. - these form a transition to marls, chalk, etc. Of the granular and compact forms numerous varieties are distinguished (see Limestone and Marble). In the form of stalactites calcite is of extremely common occurrence. Each stalactite usually consists of an aggregate of radially arranged crystalline individuals, though sometimes it may consist of a single individual with crystal faces developed at the free end.
Onyx-marbles or Oriental alabaster (see Alabaster) and other stalagmitic deposits also consist of calcite, and so do the allied deposits of travertine, calc-sinter or calc-tufa.
The modes of occurrence of calcite are very varied. It is a common gangue mineral in metalliferous deposits, and in the form of crystals is often associated with ores of lead, iron, copper and silver. It is a common product of alteration in igneous rocks, and frequently occurs as well-developed crystals in association with zeolites lining the amygdaloidal cavities of basaltic and other rocks. Veins and cavities in limestones are usually lined with crystals of calcite. The wide distribution, under various conditions, of crystallized calcite is readily explained by the solubility of calcium carbonate in water containing carbon dioxide, and the ease with which the material is again deposited in the crystallized state when the carbon dioxide is liberated by evaporation. On this also depends the formation of stalactites and calc-sinter.
Localities at which beautifully crystallized specimens of calcite are found are extremely numerous. For beauty of crystals and variety of forms the haematite mines of the Cleator Moor district in west Cumberland and the Furness district in north Lancashire are unsurpassed. The lead mines of Alston in Cumberland and of Derbyshire, and the silver mines of Andreasberg in the Harz and Guanajuato in Mexico have yielded many fine specimens. From the zinc mines of Joplin in Missouri enormous crystals of golden-yellow and amethystine colours have been recently obtained. At all the localities here mentioned the crystals occur with metalliferous ores. In Iceland the mode of occurrence is quite distinct, the mineral being here found in a cavity in basalt.
The quarry, which since the 19th century has supplied the famous Iceland-spar, is in a cavity in basalt, the cavity itself measuring 12 by 5 yds. in area and about 10 ft. in height. It is situated quite close to the farm Helgustadir, about an hour's ride from the trading station of Eskifjordur on Reydar Fjordur, on the east coast of Iceland. This cavity when first found was filled with pure crystallized masses and enormous crystals. The crystals measure up to a yard across, and are rhombohedral or scalenohedral in habit; their faces are usually dull and corroded or coated with stilbite. In recent years much of the material taken out has not been of sufficient transparency for optical purposes, and this, together with the very limited supply, has caused a considerable rise in price. Only very occasionally has calcite from any locality other than Iceland been used for the construction of a Nicol's prism.
(L. J. S.)