No, pyrite is not magnetic.
This is confusing to many at first, because they know that pyrite is an iron sulfide.
And iron is magnetic.
In this article we’ll explain why it is that pyrite is not magnetic, and also answer some of your other pyrite related questions.
Why Is Pyrite Magentic? (Or Not?)
Understanding the Components of Pyrite
The first step to understanding the answer to this question is to understand what pyrite is and what is made up of.
Pyrite (aka “fool’s gold” or “iron pyrite”) is a metallic looking material with numerous applications.
Its chemical formula is FeS2, meaning that it is a compound made up of iron (Fe) and Sulphur (S).
Pyrite is not hematite, though both stones contain iron.
All Matter Is Magnetic To Some Degree But…
A material is magnetic when it reactions to the application of an external magnetic field.
The reaction does vary from extremely strong to extremely weak.
When a material’s reaction to the external field is extremely weak, we say that the material is not magnetic though it does, in fact, have some magnetic properties.
And pyrite (like other well known metals like platinum) falls into that side of the magnetic spectrum.
It displays a very weak response to external magnetic fields, so we just say that it is not magnetic.
But Iron Is Magnetic!
Iron certainly is magnetic.
See also: Is Cast Iron Magnetic?
But just because a substance contains iron, doesn’t mean that it will be magnetic.
You have to remember that pyrite is a compound, and not a mixture.
In chemistry, a compound is a mixture of two or more individual elements that are chemically bonded, can no longer easily be separated, and that no longer retain the characteristics of the separate element.
A mixture is combining two elements in a way that the elements retain their separate characteristics, and can easily be separated.
If you simply mixed up ground up iron with ground up sulfur, you wouldn’t have pyrite, and you’d be able to use a magnet to remove the iron from the mixture.
This is not the case with pyrite.
To further explain, when you have iron alone, it goes around in the world possessing fewer electrons than other materials.
This makes it a positively charged material. Sulfur, on the other hand, goes around the world neutral or with more electrons, making it a negatively charged ion.
When you combine iron and sulfur, the compound and its electrons and charge changes.
While if you could break apart the iron from the sulfur, each of the separate elements would go back to their positive and negatively charged state.
But until then, they are changed when they are together.
What Makes Something Magnetic
Magnetism is caused the the motion of electric charges.
Each atom (the building block of the universe) has electrons circling it, and the number of electrons varies depending upon the element.
When a substance is magnetic (though not a magnet), the electrons spin mostly all in the same direction.
When a substance is not magnetic, the electrons don’t all spin in the same direction, and there may be an equal number of electrons spinning in opposite directions.
In the case of iron and sulfur, combining the two elements (and bonding them together) means that the iron electrons that used to mostly spin in the same direction are now being countered by effects of the electrons from the sulfur spinning in other directions.
Other Frequently Asked Questions About Pyrite
Is Pyrite Radioactive?
No, pyrite is not radioactive.
Radioactivity is the random spontaneous disintegration of an atom of an element.
A substance is said to be radioactive if it contains unstable nuclei and is able to naturally release energy in the process of shedding high speed charged particles. (source)
Iron and sulfur are both very stable elements, and the bond between them when it is formed is also quite stable.
None of the components of pyrite display an unstable nucleus, nor does it randomly disintegrate.
What is pyrite used for?
Over time, pyrite has been used in many difference ways.
Because it throws a spark when hit against other materials, it has been used as a source of ignition in firearms and also in making a simple fire.
You might find it in or part of making:
- sulfuric acid/sulfuric dioxide for the paper industry, chemistry industry, and fertilizer industry
- lithium batteries
- mineral detectors
- crystal radios
- vacuum tube
- solar panels
Why is Pyrite Worthless?
Pyrite is hardly worthless.
However, people compare its “value” (meaning what people will pay for it) to gold, which it can resemble and can often be mistaken for.
People “value” gold at a much higher value than they do pyrite (meaning they are willing to pay much more for it).
And when you compare the two, the money people will pay for pyrite is a small fraction of what people are willing to pay for gold.
There is no reason to say that pyrite is “worthless” except that people have decided that gold is something worth more.
Is Pyrite Jewelry Safe To Wear?
If the pyrite does not touch the skin at all (meaning it is worn in a way that it does not come into contact with your skin or it is covered with a sealant that blocks direct contact), it should be safe to wear.
The reason people have concerns about pyrite is that it may contain arsenic, which is usually not something people want to keep close on their skin, especially if the stone gets wet.
Pyrite can spark when struck or hit against other items. And it is used to create sulfuric acid, a pretty nasty substance.
Now, just because a stone might contain arsenic or asbestos doesn’t mean that people aren’t wearing it in a piece of jewelry (or using it in skincare, like with malachite).
Even the so-called safest stones like quartz may contain toxic impurities.
In general we steer clear of pyrite for jewelry, instead choosing to display it on the shelf with our other stones and to practice striking with it to try and create survival fires.
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