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How’s Agate Formed?
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Agates are semi-precious gemstones that are a variegated form of chalcedony (pronounced kal-sed’-nee), which is silicon dioxide in the form of microscopic fibrous quartz crystals. Agates naturally develop when an empty pocket inside a host rock fills in molecule-by-molecule, layer-by-layer as these microcrystals self organize to form concentric bands or other patterns. The colors and arrangement of the microcrystals are influenced by changes in pressure, temperature, and mineral content that occur during the formation process. Unlike other gemstones, each agate is unique. Even slabs cut from the same specimen will vary in color and design.
Agates develop as secondary deposits in hollow cavities, called vesicles. Although they can form in all types of host rock, most of the world’s agates developed in ancient volcanic lava. When the continents were first forming, layers of molten lava pushed toward the earth’s surface through rift zone cracks, volcanoes, and other geologic events. Within the lava, there were pockets of trapped gases. Later, these gases escaped through cracks that formed as the igneous rock cooled and hardened, leaving hollow cavities. Other cracks and seams also formed when adjoining sections of lava cooled at different rates.
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