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Pyrrhotite is an unusual iron sulfide
Iron sulfide
Iron sulfide or Iron sulphide refers to a chemical compound of iron and sulfur with a wide range of stoechiometric formulae and different crystalline structures.-Natural minerals:By increasing order of stability:...

A mineral is a naturally occurring solid chemical substance formed through biogeochemical processes, having characteristic chemical composition, highly ordered atomic structure, and specific physical properties. By comparison, a rock is an aggregate of minerals and/or mineraloids and does not...

 with a variable iron content: Fe(1-x)S (x = 0 to 0.2). The FeS endmember
Endmember (mineralogy)
An endmember in mineralogy is a mineral that is at the extreme end of a mineral series in terms of purity. Minerals often can be described as solid solutions with varying compositions of some chemical elements, rather than as substances with an exact chemical formula...

 is known as troilite
Troilite is a rare iron sulfide mineral with the simple formula of FeS. It is the iron rich endmember of the pyrrhotite group. Pyrrhotite has the formula FeS which is iron deficient...

. Pyrrhotite is also called magnetic pyrite
The mineral pyrite, or iron pyrite, is an iron sulfide with the formula FeS2. This mineral's metallic luster and pale-to-normal, brass-yellow hue have earned it the nickname fool's gold because of its resemblance to gold...

 because the color is similar to pyrite and it is weakly magnetic. The magnetism
Magnetism is a property of materials that respond at an atomic or subatomic level to an applied magnetic field. Ferromagnetism is the strongest and most familiar type of magnetism. It is responsible for the behavior of permanent magnets, which produce their own persistent magnetic fields, as well...

 increases as the iron content decreases, and the troilite is non-magnetic.

Crystal structure

Pyrrhotite has a number of polytypes of hexagonal
Hexagonal crystal system
In crystallography, the hexagonal crystal system is one of the 7 crystal systems, the hexagonal lattice system is one of the 7 lattice systems, and the hexagonal crystal family is one of the 6 crystal families...

 or monoclinic crystal symmetry; several polytypes often occur within the same specimen. Their crystalline structure is based on the NiAs unit cell, where metal occurs in octahedral coordination and anions in trigonal prismatic arrangement. An important feature of this structure is an ability to omit metal atoms with the total fraction up to 1/8, thereby creating iron vacancies. One of such structures is pyrrhotite-4C (Fe7S8). Here "4" indicates that iron vacancies form a superlattice which is 4 times larger than the unit cell in the "C" direction. The C direction is conventionally chosen parallel to the main symmetry axis of the crystal; this direction usually corresponds to the largest lattice spacing. Other polytypes include: pyrrhotite-5C (Fe9S10), 6C (Fec11S12), 7C (Fe9S10) and 11C (Fe10S11). Every polytype can have monoclinic (M) or hexagonal (H) symmetry, and therefore some sources label them, for example, not as 6C, but 6H or 6M depending on the symmetry.
The monoclinic forms are stable at temperatures below 254 °C, whereas the hexagonal forms are stable above that temperature. The exception is for those with high iron content, close to the troilite composition (47 to 50 % atomic percent iron) which exhibit hexagonal symmetry.

Magnetic properties

The ideal FeS lattice, such as that of troilite, is non-magnetic. The ferromagnetism
Ferromagnetism is the basic mechanism by which certain materials form permanent magnets, or are attracted to magnets. In physics, several different types of magnetism are distinguished...

 which is widely observed in pyrrhotite is therefore attributed to the presence of relatively large concentrations of iron vacancies (up to 20%) in the crystal structure. Vacancies lower the crystal symmetry. Therefore, monoclinic forms of pyrrhotite are in general more defect-rich than the more symmetrical hexagonal forms, and thus are more magnetic. Upon heating to 320 °C, pyrrhotite loses its magnetism, but also starts decomposing to magnetite
Magnetite is a ferrimagnetic mineral with chemical formula Fe3O4, one of several iron oxides and a member of the spinel group. The chemical IUPAC name is iron oxide and the common chemical name is ferrous-ferric oxide. The formula for magnetite may also be written as FeO·Fe2O3, which is one part...

. The saturation magnetization of pyrrhotite is 0.12 tesla
Tesla (unit)
The tesla is the SI derived unit of magnetic field B . One tesla is equal to one weber per square meter, and it was defined in 1960 in honour of the inventor, physicist, and electrical engineer Nikola Tesla...



Pyrrhotite is a rather common trace constituent of mafic igneous rocks especially norite
Norite is a mafic intrusive igneous rock composed largely of the calcium-rich plagioclase labradorite and hypersthene with olivine. Norite is essentially indistinguishable from gabbro without thin section study under the petrographic microscope...

s. It occurs as segregation deposits in layered intrusions associated with pentlandite
Pentlandite is an iron-nickel sulfide, 9S8. Pentlandite usually has a Ni:Fe ratio of close to 1:1. It also contains minor cobalt.Pentlandite forms isometric crystals, but is normally found in massive granular aggregates. It is brittle with a hardness of 3.5 - 4 and specific gravity of 4.6 - 5.0 and...

, chalcopyrite
Chalcopyrite is a copper iron sulfide mineral that crystallizes in the tetragonal system. It has the chemical composition CuFeS2. It has a brassy to golden yellow color and a hardness of 3.5 to 4 on the Mohs scale. Its streak is diagnostic as green tinged black.On exposure to air, chalcopyrite...

 and other sulfides. It is an important constituent of the Sudbury intrusion
Sudbury Basin
The Sudbury Basin, also known as Sudbury Structure or the Sudbury Nickel Irruptive, is a major geologic structure in Ontario, Canada. It is the second-largest known impact crater or astrobleme on Earth, as well as one of the oldest....

 where is occurs in masses associated with copper and nickel mineralisation. It also occurs in pegmatite
A pegmatite is a very crystalline, intrusive igneous rock composed of interlocking crystals usually larger than 2.5 cm in size; such rocks are referred to as pegmatitic....

s and in contact metamorphic
Metamorphic rock
Metamorphic rock is the transformation of an existing rock type, the protolith, in a process called metamorphism, which means "change in form". The protolith is subjected to heat and pressure causing profound physical and/or chemical change...

 zones. Pyrrhotite is often accompanied by pyrite, marcasite
The mineral marcasite, sometimes called white iron pyrite, is iron sulfide with orthorhombic crystal structure. It is physically and crystallographically distinct from pyrite, which is iron sulfide with cubic crystal structure. Both structures do have in common that they contain the disulfide...

 and magnetite. Pyrrhotite does not have specific applications. It is mined primarily because it is associated with pentlandite
Pentlandite is an iron-nickel sulfide, 9S8. Pentlandite usually has a Ni:Fe ratio of close to 1:1. It also contains minor cobalt.Pentlandite forms isometric crystals, but is normally found in massive granular aggregates. It is brittle with a hardness of 3.5 - 4 and specific gravity of 4.6 - 5.0 and...

, sulfide mineral that can contain significant amounts of nickel and cobalt.