6.1 What Is A Rock?

A rock is a solid mass of geological materials. Geological materials include individual mineral crystals, inorganic non-mineral solids like glass, pieces broken from other rocks, and even fossils. The geological materials in rocks may be inorganic, but they can also include organic materials such as the partially decomposed plant matter preserved in coal. A rock can be composed of only one type of geological material or mineral, but many are composed of several types. Figure 6.2 shows a rock made of three different kinds of minerals.

Rocks are grouped into three main categories based on how they form. Igneous rocks form when melted rock cools and solidifies. Sedimentary rocks form when fragments of other rocks are buried, compressed, and cemented together; or when minerals precipitate from solution, either directly or with the help of an organism. Metamorphic rocks form when heat and pressure alter a pre-existing rock. Although temperatures can be very high, metamorphism does not involve melting of the rock.

This close-up view of the igneous rock pegmatite shows black biotite crystals, colourless quartz crystals, and pink potassium feldspar crystals. Crystals are mm to cm in scale.
Figure 6.2 This close-up view of the igneous rock pegmatite shows black biotite crystals, colourless quartz crystals, and pink potassium feldspar crystals. Crystals are mm to cm in scale. Source: R. Weller/ Cochise College (2011) Permission for non-commercial educational use. (labels added) view source