The Radioactive Rock Metatorbernite

Don’t worry, it’s not going to hurt you – at least, not if you don’t handle it for too long. And you wash your hands afterward.

Many radioactive minerals exist in the world, some more radioactive than others. This particular type – metatorbernite – contains uranium and should be handled with care. But even small barriers between yourself and the rock can effectively block the radiation, like a glass case or gloves.

We’ve written about radioactive materials before; radioactive glass pieces from the early 20th century glow in the dark because of their uranium content. They’re not terribly dangerous, however.

Photo by Rob Lavinsky, CC by SA 3.0 - radioactive mineral metatorbernite

Photo by Rob Lavinsky, CC by SA 3.0.

Metatorbernite is a more organic radioactive material. It comes in colors ranging from specks of green on grey to almost black to a bright, almost fluorescent shade of green. You can often tell what materials are radioactive by their appearance. They’re often a neon yellow or green, or a dull opaque texture with rounded crystal edges.

The beauty of this mineral makes it a wonderful addition to a collection or even as a display on its own.

As with any radioactive material, exposure should be limited. Their forms of radiation include gamma rays, which can be harmful. Keep the mineral away from other minerals so they don’t come in contact, and limit holding the mineral in your bare hands. If you do hold the mineral, make sure to wash your hands afterward.

Do you own any metatorbernite? Would you feel comfortable with a radioactive rock in your home?

Glass that Glows in the Dark

Some might call them crazy. Believe it or not, some collectors collect – wait for it – radioactive glass.

Now, it’s not exactly dangerous. Vaseline glass, often called uranium glass for its uranium content, won’t kill you. The radiation they emit comes out in very tiny amounts, less radiation than people typically expose themselves to in a single day.

However, some early 20th century pieces have up to 25% uranium, not a number to scoff at.

The best part is that Vaseline glass glows in the dark. There’s a kind of novelty in owning glass that glows (think of all the neat party tricks). The glow comes not from its radioactivity, but from uranium’s own chemistry.


J J Harrison, CC 2.5

The 1830’s first saw uranium oxide used for coloring glass, and Vaseline glass continued to be made through the 19th century, reaching its popularity in the 1880’s.

(Carnival glass also came in Vaseline glass shades.)

The glass has never quite been able to drop its sketchy reputation. Adding that to claims connecting Vaseline glass to lung cancer in glassblowers, the glass definitely lost its popularity over time.

In the 1940’s, the U.S. government began severely regulating the use of the substance uranium. Only later in the century did Vaseline glass come back, this time made from depleted uranium. These new, depleted uranium glass pieces are still made in small amounts today.

So how do you know if you have a glass piece containing uranium? If it’s a green or canary yellow color, expose the piece to a black (or another kind of ultraviolet) light. If it glows bright green, it has uranium.

Do you own any Vaseline glass?