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Perlite

Pictures of Igneous Rock Types

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Perlite is an extrusive rock that forms when a high-silica lava has a high water content. Perlite is an important industrial material. (more below)
Stone styrofoam
Photo (c) 2008 Andrew Alden, licensed to About.com (fair use policy)
Perlite forms when a body of rhyolite or obsidian, for one reason or another, has a high water content. Perlite often has a perlitic texture, typified by concentric fractures around closely spaced centers and a light color with a bit of pearlescent shine to it. It tends to be lightweight and strong, an easy-to-use building material. Even more useful is what happens when perlite is roasted at around 900°C, just to its softening point — it expands like popcorn into a fluffy white material, a mineral Styrofoam.

Expanded perlite is used as insulation, in lightweight concrete, as an additive in soil (such as an ingredient in potting mix), and in many industrial roles where any combination of toughness, chemical resistance, light weight, abrasiveness and insulation is needed.

See more pictures of perlite and its cousins in the gallery of volcanic rocks.

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