What Is a Rock?
Everyone knows what a rock is, until you ask what it is exactly. After some thought and discussion, most people will agree that rocks are more or less hard solids, of natural origin, made of minerals. But all of those criteria have exceptions.
(more content follows the advertisement below)
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Rocks Are Hard
Not necessarily. Some common rocks can be scratched with your fingernail: shale, soapstone, gypsum rock, peat. Others may be soft in the ground, but they harden once they spend time in the air (and vice versa). And there is an imperceptible gradation between consolidated rocks and unconsolidated sediments. Indeed, geologists name and map many formations that don't consist of rock at all. This is why geologists refer to work with igneous and metamorphic rocks as "hard-rock geology," opposed to "sedimentary petrology."
Rocks Are Solid
Well, some are far from completely solid.
Many rocks include water in their pore spaces. Many geodes—hollow objects found in limestone country—hold water inside them like coconuts. And the fine lava threads called Pele's hair, and the fine open meshwork of exploded lava called reticulite, are barely solids.
Then there's the matter of temperature. Mercury is a liquid metal at room temperature (and down to 40 below zero), and petroleum is a fluid unless it's asphalt erupted into cold ocean water. And good old ice meets all the criteria of rockhood too, in permafrost and in glaciers.
Rocks Are Natural
Not entirely. The longer humans stay on this planet, the more that concrete accumulates. Concrete is a mixture of sand and pebbles (aggregate) and a mineral glue (cement) of calcium silicate compounds. It is a synthetic conglomerate, and it acts just like the natural rock, turning up in riverbeds and on beaches. Some of it has entered the rock cycle to be discovered by future geologists.
Brick, too, is an artificial rock—in this case, an artificial form of massive slate.
Another human product that closely resembles rock is slag, the byproduct of metal smelting. Slag is a complex mixture of oxides that has many uses, such as in road building and concrete aggregate. It too has surely found its way into sedimentary rocks already.