Azurite is one of the two basic copper(II) carbonate minerals, the other being bright green malachite. Simple copper carbonate (CuCO3) is not known to exist in nature. Azurite has the formula Cu3(CO3)2(OH)2, with the copper(II) cations linked to two different anions, carbonate and hydroxide. Small crystals of azurite can be produced by rapidly stirring a few drops of copper sulfate solution into a saturated solution of sodium carbonate and allowing the solution to stand overnight.
Azurite crystals are monoclinic, and when large enough to be seen they appear as dark blue prismatic crystals. Azurite specimens are typically massive to nodular, and are often stalactitic in form. Specimens tend to lighten in color over time due to weathering of the specimen surface into malachite. Azurite is soft, with a Mohs hardness of only 3.5 to 4. The specific gravity of azurite is 3.77 to 3.89. Azurite is destroyed by heat, losing carbon dioxide and water to form black, powdery copper(II) oxide. Characteristic of a carbonate, specimens effervesce upon treatment with hydrochloric acid.
The optical properties (color, intensity) of minerals such as azurite and malachite are explained in the context of conventional electronic spectroscopy of coordination complexes. Relatively detailed descriptions are provided by ligand field theory.
Azurite is unstable in open air with respect to malachite, and often is pseudomorphically replaced by malachite. This weathering process involves the replacement of some the carbon dioxide (CO2) units with water (H2O), changing the carbonate:hydroxide ratio of azurite from 1:1 to the 1:2 ratio of malachite:
- 2 Cu3(CO3)2(OH)2 + H2O → 3 Cu2(CO3)(OH)2 + CO2
From the above equation, the conversion of azurite into malachite is attributable to the low partial pressure of carbon dioxide in air. Azurite is also incompatible with aquatic media, such as saltwater aquariums.