Is Gold a Mineral? (+ 3 Facts to Know)

Gold is considered both a mineral and a native element. It is classified as a native element because it occurs naturally in its pure metallic form, composed solely of the element gold (Au). However, it is also referred to as a mineral due to its geological occurrence, physical properties, and its inclusion within the field of mineralogy. 1 2

Well, this was just a simple answer. But there are few more things to know about this topic which will make your concept super clear.

So let’s dive right into it.

Key Takeaways: Is Gold a Mineral?

  • Gold is considered a mineral because it meets the criteria of being a naturally occurring inorganic substance with a crystalline structure and definite chemical composition.
  • Gold is also called a native element because it occurs naturally in its pure elemental form without combining with other elements or compounds.
  • Gold is formed through processes involving supernovae, where it is created during stellar explosions, as well as through hydrothermal activity, where gold is carried by heated fluids and precipitates out in veins or deposits.

Why is gold a mineral?

Gold is considered a mineral because it meets the definition and characteristics of a mineral. Minerals are naturally occurring inorganic substances that possess a crystalline structure and have a definite chemical composition. 3 Gold fulfills these criteria.

  • Naturally occurring: Gold is found naturally in the Earth’s crust. 4 5 Although it can be extracted and refined through various processes, gold is not created or synthesized by humans.
  • Inorganic substance: Gold is a chemical element with the symbol Au (from the Latin word “aurum”) and atomic number 79. 6 It is not derived from living organisms and does not possess organic properties.
  • Crystalline structure: Gold has a crystalline structure, meaning its atoms are arranged in a regular, repeating pattern. Under specific conditions, gold can form distinct crystal shapes, such as octahedrons or cubes.
  • Definite chemical composition: Gold has a well-defined chemical composition. In its purest form, it consists solely of gold atoms, giving it a chemical formula of Au. However, gold can also occur in nature with impurities or alloyed with other metals.

By meeting these criteria, gold qualifies as a mineral. It is highly valued for its beauty, rarity, and various practical applications, making it one of the most sought-after minerals throughout history.

Why is gold also called a native element?

Gold is referred to as a native element because it occurs naturally in its pure elemental form without combining with other elements or compounds. 7

Gold is called a native element because it is found in its elemental state in nature, rather than being chemically bonded to other elements. Unlike most minerals, which are compounds or mixtures of elements, gold is unique in that it exists in its pure form. 

This occurs due to the chemical properties of gold, which make it highly resistant to oxidation and reaction with other elements. As a result, gold can be found as nuggets, grains, or veins in rocks and sediments, often associated with hydrothermal activity or placer deposits. 8

The term “native” indicates that the element is found in its natural, uncombined state. Other examples of native elements include copper, silver, and platinum.

How is gold formed?

Gold is formed through various geological processes that occur over millions of years. 9 There are several theories on the formation of gold, but the most widely accepted explanation involves the processes of supernovae and hydrothermal activity.

Gold is believed to be primarily formed during supernovae, which are powerful stellar explosions. 10 11 When a massive star reaches the end of its life cycle, it undergoes a supernova explosion, releasing enormous amounts of energy and elements into space. 12 These expelled materials, including gold, mix with interstellar gas and dust.

Subsequently, this enriched interstellar material can become part of a molecular cloud, which eventually collapses under its own gravity to form a new star system, including planets and asteroids. Gold, along with other heavy elements, is then incorporated into the forming planets.

However, the concentration of gold in the Earth’s crust is much higher than can be accounted for by its formation in supernovae alone. The second important process in the formation of gold is hydrothermal activity. 13 Hydrothermal fluids, heated by magma chambers beneath the Earth’s surface, carry dissolved gold and other minerals through cracks and fissures in the Earth’s crust. As these fluids cool and undergo chemical changes, the gold precipitates out and accumulates in veins or deposits.

Over time, through geological processes such as erosion, weathering, and tectonic activity, gold-bearing rocks and deposits are exposed at the Earth’s surface, allowing for mining and extraction.

Further reading

Is Coal a Mineral?
Is Oil a Mineral?
Is Salt a Mineral?
Is Water a Mineral?
Is Glass a Mineral? 

About author

Jay is an educator and has helped more than 100,000 students in their studies by providing simple and easy explanations on different science-related topics. He is a founder of Pediabay and is passionate about helping students through his easily digestible explanations.

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  1. 9.2.1: Native Elements: Metals, Semimetals, and Nonmetals. (2022, July 6). Geosciences LibreTexts.
  2. King, H. M. (n.d.). Gold Mineral Properties. Gold Mineral Properties.
  3. Minerals 1.0. (n.d.). Minerals 1.0.
  4. Where does all the gold come from? (n.d.). Where Does All the Gold Come From?
  5. Gold. (n.d.). Gold.
  6. P. (n.d.). Gold | Au (Element) – PubChem. Gold | Au (Element) – PubChem.
  7. Native element | Definition & Examples. (n.d.). Encyclopedia Britannica.
  8. Gold – Wikipedia. (2022, May 1). Gold – Wikipedia.
  11. Croswell, K. (2021, January 20). Tracing gold’s cosmic origin story. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 118(4).
  12. Background: Dispersion of Elements. (n.d.). Background: Dispersion of Elements.
  13. Zhu, Y., An, F., & Tan, J. (2011, July). Geochemistry of hydrothermal gold deposits: A review. Geoscience Frontiers, 2(3), 367–374.

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