Abelsonite – a chemofossil


  • Discovered only in 1969 (by the way the year of birth of the author of this blog) by Lawrence C. Trudell while he was exploring the Green River Formation (Utah, USA) for an oil shale project
  • Named after Philip H. Abelson (1913–2004), a long-time editor of the journal Science, for his pioneering work in organic geochemistry
  • Abelsonite is formed as a secondary mineral (and is one of the few organic minerals)  on oil shale surfaces by conversion of chlorophyll – therefore, it is called a chemofossil (a fossil that consists only of chemicals remaining from the decomposition of a living organism)
  • Abelsonite is the only known naturally occurring crystalline porphyrin derivative
  • Formula: NiC31H34N4
  • Space group: P-1 (No. 2)
  • Crystal system: triclinic
  • Crystal class: -1
  • Lattice parameters: a = 8.4416 Å, b = 10.8919 Å, c = 7.2749, α = 90.465°, β =113.158°,  γ = 78.080°

Picture: CC BY-SA 3.0 Thomas Witzke – http://tw.strahlen.org/fotoatlas1/abelsonite_foto.html

Crystal structure (click on the picture to download the CIF):

  • Ni: green, N: blue, C: gray, H: white
  • Note: Although a single Ni porphyrin molecule does not possess -1 symmetry, matching ethyl groups at roughly opposite ends of the molecule enable orientational disorder, in which molecules can randomly adopt one of two different orientations while still stacking in the same manner. The aggregate of these two random orientations produces an overall symmetry of P-1.
  • Reference: Crystal structure of abelsonite, the only known crystalline geoporphyrin
    Daniel R. Hummer, Bruce C. Noll, Robert M. Hazen, Robert T. Downs
    American Mineralogist (2017) 102 (5): 1129-1132.

2 thoughts on “Abelsonite – a chemofossil

  1. Michael D Parrott

    I purchased a small specimen of Abelsonite on Sept. 12, 2020 from a well known dealer in Barcelona Spain. My specimen is from a WOSCO well site in the Mahogany Zone of the Green River Formation – Uintah Basin, Utah There are only a small handful of specimens known and I’m lucky to have one!


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