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Posts falsely claim electrically-charged rocks found in Congo


CLAIM: Electrically-charged stones have been discovered in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. While some minerals can serve as conduits for electricity, rocks can’t store electricity, experts told The Associated Press.

THE FACTS: Claims that electrically-charged stones were discovered in the central African nation have spread widely across social media platforms in recent days, including Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and Instagram. Some users likened the supposed discovery to “vibranium,” a fictional rare metal that can store and release energy in Marvel comics and films like “Black Panther”.

As proof, social media users shared a video showing several people inspecting a small, shiny rock. One of the individuals connects two ends of what appears to be a wire to the rock, which activates a light on the wire.

“Electrically charged stones discovered in the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” one Twitter user who shared the video wrote Saturday. The tweet was shared over 27,000 times.

But these claims are as fanciful as a superhero movie, experts say. Certain minerals can conduct electricity, but none can store electricity in a way that would power a light as the video shows.

“Minerals within those rocks, or if you have sufficient concentrations of them, can conduct electricity, but there’s no way they can really store it,” Simon Jowitt, an associate professor of economic geology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “It just passes through, going from one end to the other, like if you had an electrical current passing through a bit of metal.”

The Congo Basin is known for massive reserves of cobalt, lithium and other minerals that can be used in batteries, as the AP has reported.

But the minerals can’t act as batteries on their own, experts say. Rocks, unlike batteries, are unable to release electricity because they lack a chemical reaction that releases electrons and allows the electrons to flow, Jowitt explained.

“There’s no chemical reactive capacity in a rock that you would get in a battery,” he said.

Naturally-occurring rocks typically lack all the components required to operate as batteries, such as both positive and negative electrodes, said Yuzhang Li, an assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the University of California, Los Angeles.

“I don’t think there’s any new physics being discovered here,” Li said. “I would doubt that the rock alone is generating some kind of voltage.”

Benjamin Hallett, a geology lecturer at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, said the rock in the video is “most certainly” a sulfide mineral like pyrite, due to its shiny metallic luster and slight gold tinge. Oxide minerals, sulfide minerals and native metals can transmit electricity, according to Hallett.

While it’s unclear exactly how the light in the video is being powered, Hallett guessed that the person may be holding a battery.

Source: Associated Press