Have you ever heard the phrase “all that glitters isn’t gold”? It means that just because something is shiny and golden, it’s not necessarily gold…or valuable. As it turns out, it’s absolutely true, too!

Gold is a chemical element. It’s a soft, shiny, bright yellow metal that happens to be very rare. It doesn’t react with many other elements, so it’s often found in its pure elemental form of nuggets or grains in rocks found in stream beds or veins in larger rock formations.

Because of its natural beauty, rarity and many practical uses in jewelry and industrial applications, gold is one of the most valuable precious metals in the world. As a result, gold has been sought by people for thousands of years.

The discovery of gold has at times sparked a frenzy. For example, when gold was discovered in the American West, a “gold rush” occurred, which brought thousands of people west to mine for gold in the hope of getting rich quickly.

As these new miners searched western stream beds for gold, some found gold and made money. Many others found something that glittered but wasn’t gold.

Pyrite is a shiny mineral made of iron and sulphur that looks very much like real gold. It’s not a metal, however. It’s an iron sulfide with the chemical formula FeS2. 

Pyrite gets its name from the Greek word puritēs, which means “of fire” or “in fire.” This is because pyrite can create a spark when struck against steel. In fact, pyrite was popular in the 16th and 17th centuries as a source of ignition in the earliest firearms.

Pyrite is much harder and more brittle than gold. Unlike gold, it also tarnishes to a dark brown when exposed to oxygen.

Pyrite is very common and its resemblance to real gold has fooled many. This led to its nickname: fool’s gold. Unlike real gold, though, pyrite does not have great value.

Simple field tests and close observation can be used to distinguish between real gold and fool’s gold. For example, real gold usually takes the form of a nugget or very small flakes or sheets. Pyrite, on the other hand, forms crystals shaped like cubes, octahedrons (8 sides) or pyritohedrons (12 sides).

Gold and pyrite also have different physical characteristics. Gold is softer and can be cut. Pyrite is very hard and cannot be scratched. Gold has no odor, whereas pyrite often smells like sulphur or rotten eggs you strike gold with a hammer, it will flatten or change shape without breaking. Pyrite will give off sparks when struck with a hammer.

Today, pyrite is sometimes used to make sulfuric acid for industrial purposes. Since it’s an attractive substance, it is also sometimes polished and used as an inexpensive gemstone in jewelry.


114 Join the Discussion

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    • We really appreciate your comment, 5th Grade Room 20 from Mapleshade School! We think it’s AWESOME that you guys guessed today’s Wonder would be about fool’s gold…you are AMAZING WONDERers! :-)

    • Hey, Rahul! We’re super excited about your suggestion of a future Wonder of the Day® on BLACK HOLES! We know other Wonder Friends will be just as excited to learn more about them, too! :-)

  1. Thanks Wonderopolis for your great video on Fool’s Gold! We definitely liked how Chumlee helped us learn how to tell the difference between real and fake gold! We are thinking that tomorrow’s Wonder of the Day has something to do with old time trains…maybe trains involving coal! :)

    • We REALLY enjoyed receiving your comment today, Ms. Lucas’ 6th Grade Class! It’s fun to hear from our Wonder Friends and find out which parts of each Wonder of the Day® they found to be the most interesting! Thanks for guessing what you guys think tomorrow’s Wonder will be about, too…we can’t wait to find out if your guess was correct! :-)

    • Good morning, Emma! We think a future Wonder of the Day® about what it means to be a vegetarianism or a vegan would be OUTSTANDING! Thank you for suggesting it…and THANK YOU for visiting Wonderopolis! :-)

  2. One time, my dad brought home fool’s gold and I thought it was real gold and I almost fainted. Then, my dad said it was not real gold and I was so mad I almost cried. But now when I think of it, I laugh!!!!! <3 Oh by the way, that is a heart if you didn’t know it. I love to get on wonderopolis because they have really good wonders of the day. I liked the one from yesterday, but I really like the one from this morning. I really want a cupcake. I think I might go get one. Bye!!!

    • Happy Tuesday, Cassidy! Thank you for leaving us this WONDERful comment today! We liked your story about the fool’s gold your dad brought home. We think a cupcake sounds like a SWEET way to celebrate another fun-filled Wonder of the Day®! :-)

    • Hello, Josh! Thank you for brightening our day with your comment! We’re glad you stopped by this Wonder of the Day® about fool’s gold and learned some fun new facts! :-)

  3. I liked today’s wonder and I can’t wait to figure out tomorrow’s wonder. I think tomorrow’s wonder will be about animals paw prints.

    • That’s a REALLY great guess, Isabelle! Thanks for being such a super Wonder Friend and sharing what you think tomorrow’s Wonder will be about! :-)

    • That’s a GREAT question, Cameron! There are simple tests that can be used to tell the difference between real gold and fool’s gold. Plus, if you look closely (and know what you’re looking for), you can tell the difference that way, too! Real gold is usually shaped like nuggets, flakes, or sheets. Pyrite (fool’s gold) forms crystals that look like cubes or other geometric shapes. Real gold is softer and can be cut. Pyrite is very hard and can’t be scratched. You can explore this Wonder of the Day® to find out more ways of telling real gold from fool’s gold! :-)

    • We bet you’re right, Noah! We think there are probably a lot of male Wonder Friends who wouldn’t mind having a gold ring, either! We’re glad you stopped by Wonderopolis today! :-)

  4. I learned that pyrite is an inexpensive mineral that can be made into a gemstone, otherwise known as fool’s gold.
    I still do not know why on the video it showed a man destroying rings?

    • You sure did learn some interesting facts about pyrite today, Cameron! We’re proud of you! Sometimes, in order to test and make sure a piece of gold jewelry is real gold, a person has to rub the piece of jewelry onto a special stone and add some chemicals (like the man did in the video). It doesn’t destroy the jewelry if it is done correctly! Thanks for WONDERing a little more about gold after you explored today’s Wonder! :-)

  5. Gold is a rare rock that is named Gold! Shiny, soft yellow metal that happens to be rare. We can use pyrite to make sulfuric acid. Pyrite has a name of fool’s gold and it was made out of small crystals. Gold is made out of very small flakes that gather up after time. How was gold first found and how did they know it was rare?

    • Your comment ROCKS, Grant! Thank you for sharing it with us today! We’re pretty sure that gold has been used and valued by mankind for a really, really, really long time! We’re not sure when gold was first found, but we think it would be WONDERful to find out! :-)

  6. I learned that Gold is valuable thing that can be used for jewelry and for other materials. For Pyrite I learned that it looks like a gemstone and it’s inexpensive. I learned a lot from gold!
    I wonder who invented gold?

    • Hi, Mihir! We think you learned some AMAZING things by exploring this Wonder…GREAT job! Gold wasn’t “invented,” as it is something that occurs on it’s own in nature. It was “found” by someone a long, long time ago, though, and has been valued ever since! :-)

  7. Dear Wonderopolis,

    I want to know what is the biggest gold nugget is and why is pyrite so confusing to gold? I have been wondering what it would be like to have my very own gemstone? Thank you for your time.

    • Hi, Cameron! Those are all GREAT questions! We’re not sure about the largest gold nugget ever found, but we do hope you get to own your very own gemstone some day! That would be AWESOME! :-)

  8. I learned 3 words from the website: physical, sulphur and inexpensive. I wonder if there is fool’s silver like fools gold?

    • Thanks for sharing all the awesome words you learned from exploring today’s Wonder, Ali! We like your WONDER about fool’s silver! Way to go! :-)

  9. I learned that pyrite can be used to make a fire. What do chemical reactions do to Gold? What is the biggest piece of gold and the smallest piece of gold? Who found very first piece of Gold? What kind of tools do they use

    • Those are all WONDERful questions, Joey! It looks like we’ll all have to do a bit more WONDERing to find out the answers! :-)

  10. Hi, I am Eric and I really liked today’s wonder. I never knew that fool’s gold was really pyrite. I really liked the video. Now I can tell if the mineral is valuable or inexpensive. I was wondering…is pyrite expensive?

    • Hello, Eric! Thanks for letting us know you liked today’s Wonder! We’re not sure how much pyrite costs when compared to other minerals, but we know for a fact it is a LOT less expensive than gold! :-)

  11. Hi, I’m Tali. I really liked today’s wonder about fool’s gold. I never knew that pyrite was really fool’s gold. It’s good to know that some gold really isn’t gold. I learned that fool’s gold has no value at all. I thought it had some value. Do any other minerals look like gold?

    • Thanks for checking out today’s Wonder of the Day®, Tali! We’re not sure about other minerals that look like gold. We will both have to do some more WONDERing about that! :-)

  12. Hi, I am Eric and I really liked today’s wonder. I never knew that fool’s gold was really pyrite. I really liked the video, now I can tell if the mineral is valuable or inexpensive. I was wondering, is pyrite expensive or a rarity?

    • Hi, Eric! We’re pretty sure pyrite is a plentiful mineral. If you go to specialty stores (like gemstone stores or some toy stores) that have rocks/minerals kids can purchase for their rock collections, you are sure to find an abundant supply of fool’s gold! :-)

  13. I thought today’s Wonder was really interesting! It made me really start to WONDER more about pyrite and why people get fooled by it. I also didn’t know that gold is a chemical element! I think it’s super cool that pyrite gives off a smell, and yet gold doesn’t. My dad told me that the football team, the San Francisco ’49ers, is named after the big gold rush in in San Francisco in 1949. I’m still Wondering: Why, if there was so much gold in San Francisco, is gold so rare today?

    • That’s a super question, Claire! The term “gold rush” refers to the excitement many people felt about the possibility of finding lots of gold and getting rich. Although many people found gold in the gold rush, there wasn’t so much that everyone who searched for it found some. It’s a pretty rare thing, and that’s why the price of gold is so high today. There are still LOTS of people out there who believe they will “strike it rich” and find gold. We think it’s kind of exciting to think that there could be a big amount of it out there somewhere! :-)

  14. I loved the video. I learned that some gold you can’t tell the difference in real gold, and you can take real gold and make a yellow streak and a black streak, too and real gold can make a purple streak too.

    • We’re super glad you liked the video for today’s Wonder, Ronald! Thank you so much for letting us know the cool things you learned today! :-)

  15. In this wonder, What is Fool’s Gold, I learned that fool’s gold is really is pyrite. I learned that pyrite was inexpensive. I didn’t know that fool’s gold was used for jewelry. Do people still use gold for money? :)

    • WOW! You learned some neat things about gold and pyrite today, Anya! We do think there are places in the world where gold is used as money. It’s really rare and there are so many people and cultures who value it! :-)

  16. Have you watched the show on Spike TV called Gold Rush? I like it when they helped the people who fell on ground hard. My sisters was scared, but I was not scared. I WONDER about the next WONDER.

    • Happy Tuesday, Tomiya! Thanks for visiting today’s Wonder and for sharing about that show! We will have to check it out! :-)

  17. Hi wonderopolis,
    Today I learned about fool’s gold. Pyrite’s nickname is fool’s gold. It is not real gold because some people got fooled and they figured it is not real gold. It is also not a mineral. My comment question today is where do you find fools gold?

    • That’s a GREAT question, Nour! Pyrite is such a common mineral that it can be found in many different geographical locations! You can also find it in MANY Wonder Friends’ rock collections and places where you can purchase rocks and minerals! :-)

  18. Hi, I think it’s interesting that there is another thing that looks just like gold which is pyrite. I thought pyrite, made of sulphur and iron, would be expensive like gold and very rare to find, but now to me they mean the opposite. It’s also interesting that when pyrite is struck by a hammer it lets off sparks. I’m wondering who found out that when you rub gold or fake gold on a special board and put some special water on it fake gold fades and real gold does not fade, and how do they know it’s true from the start?

    • We thought the fact about fool’s gold letting off sparks was cool, too, Olivia! We’re not sure who discovered the “rubbing on the special stone and putting chemicals on it” way of testing for real gold. We’re sure there are a LOT of people who appreciate the discovery, though, so they know whether or not the gold they are selling or buying is real! :-)

  19. GOLD: a yellow precious metal, the chemical element of atomic number 79
    SULFIDE: a binary compound of sulfur with another element or group
    SULPHUR: the chemical element of atomic number 16, a yellow combustible nonmetal

    • Thanks for adding more awesomeness to today’s Wonder of the Day® about gold and fool’s gold, Sean! We appreciate your knowledge and are super happy you visited Wonderopolis today! :-)

  20. Hey, I loved your wonder today! Gold is very interesting to learn about. It feels good about learning what a gold rush was and why gold is so valuable. Pyrite was also a click for me. When I first saw the word pyrite I asked myself, “What is a pyrite?” I also like how you explain what fools gold is and what it’s made of. I think this information will help me in the future.

    • We like your comment very much, Mai! Thanks for letting us know the things you liked about today’s Wonder and that you learned some new things by exploring it! :-)

  21. Hi, I really liked today’s wonder! I learned that fool’s gold is pyrite that is used for jewelry. I also learned that gold is a kind of mineral that is expensive because it is rare. Why would someone want real gold when there’s pyrite? I think tomorrow’s wonder will be about the sun.

    • That’s a great question, Jessica! We think people prefer real gold to pyrite because they know it is rare and there is less of it in the world. They know gold is more valuable, too. We like the way you WONDERed about that question, though! AWESOME JOB! :-)

    • We’re super sorry you had trouble viewing the video for today’s Wonder, Aleia! Have you asked a grown-up (like a teacher or parent) to help you try and figure out if there might be another way to see it? Thank you for visiting Wonderopolis and leaving us this comment to let us know you were here! :-)

  22. Hello, wonderopolis. This was a very cool website to visit. My friends like it, too!
    We think this website is kinda of boring because it doesn’t show the video!!!!!!!!!!

    • Hello again, Simon! We’re really sorry to hear that you and your friends can’t see the videos for the Wonders of the Day. Some schools and school districts place a “block” on videos from websites, so they can protect their students. You might want to check with your teacher to ask if he or she might be able to help you see the videos on Wonderopolis. Thank you for leaving us this great comment to let us know that you and your friends think Wonderopolis is cool! :-)

  23. Dear wonderopolis,

    I love this website. I think it’s great. I actually have fool’s gold, it’s not big, but it is cool.

    • Hey there, Kaley! Thanks so much for letting us know you love learning in Wonderopolis! We’re so glad you shared that you have a piece of fool’s gold…that’s a great personal connection to today’s Wonder of the Day®! :-)

  24. I know what fool’s gold is already. We learned it in class this year. I hope I never find fool’s gold because I REALLY don’t like to feel like a fool :( I hope I find real gold, though, and I hope you do, too!:) :D You guys rock you WONDER people!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • We’ve got to say honestly, we wouldn’t mind finding a big bunch of real gold, too, Maxini! Thanks for saying Wonderopolis rocks…we think YOU rock for leaving us another AWESOME comment! :-)

  25. Dear Wonderopolis,
    Cool wonder! Fool’s gold is fake gold that they used to fool people in the olden days. I think tomorrow’s wonder is about penguins.
    Paige ;)

  26. Hello, wonderopolis!!! I love your website and i think tommorrow’s wonder is about track and field. By the way, I’m not the Cassidy that commented earlier. Can you do a wonder about apple products since they are so popular??? Thanks, Cassidy

    • Hello, Cassidy! It’s super cool that we have TWO Wonder Friends named Cassidy that left us comments on today’s Wonder of the Day®! Thank you for suggesting a future Wonder about Apple products! We think that would be AWESOME! Here is a past Wonder we think you might also enjoy exploring! It’s Wonder #420 – How Do Touch Screens Work? http://wonderopolis.org/wonder/how-do-touch-screens-work/ :-)

    • That’s a WONDERful guess, Mikayla! We’ll have to check back tomorrow to see if you were correct in your guess about a skunk! :-)

    • What a SUPER guess, Damien! Way to go! We hope you are right, but we’ll all have to wait for tomorrow’s Wonder to see for sure! :-)

    • Hello, Connor! Thanks for letting us know you liked the video for today’s Wonder and also for trying to guess what tomorrow’s Wonder will be about! We think your guess is GREAT! :-)

  27. I am so EXCITED that Room 234 students are leaving comments on the wonders of the day. As I read them tonight, I was very impressed with the new facts you learned, the questions that you asked to further your learning and best of all you had fun wondering. Welcome to another 5th grade down the hall from MC students.

    • Hi, Maria! We think the Room 234 comments have really ROCKED! We’re glad to have some more Wonder Friends from Bailey Elementary! :-)

  28. Hey wonderopolis my name is Emmy (as you can see), and I was just wondering if you had and past wonders about squirrels. I love them, and I just was thinking if you had one.
    Thanks :)

  29. Dear Wonderopolis,

    I’m a little late to answer this one, but it is amazing! I think tomorrow’s wonder of the day will be about animal prints! (also because I did that one before I did this one!! he, he).

    –Hannah from team turner

    • You’re pretty smart, Hannah! We really like your comment and think you just might be right about the next Wonder of the Day® (hee, hee)! :-)

  30. I’m from Wisconsin Elementary, and we studied fool’s gold today. She showed me a piece and it was shiny but fake. I like this topic!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :)

    • Hello, Gigi! Thanks for sharing that you got to learn more about fool’s gold and that you even got to see a piece up close…that’s so COOL! :-)

  31. Since this is the subject on types of ores, once I saw something sticking out from my yard that had a red shine too it, so I used my hands to pull it out and I thought for a moment that it was an actual emerald. Later, I used a quarter on it too see, guess what! Scratches appeared on it. :-(

    • What a cool personal connection to this Wonder, Clayton! We think it would be AWESOME to find a real emerald in your yard, but we bet it was a lot of fun to find the red, shiny object you found, too! Thanks for sharing your story with us! :-)

    • Hello, Elango! Thank YOU for visiting this Wonder and letting us know you found it useful! We appreciate hearing from you! :-)

  32. I learned that pyrite can be used to make a fire. What do chemical reactions do to Gold? What is the biggest piece of gold and the smallest piece of gold? Who found very first piece of Gold? What kind of tools do they use?

    It’s hard to tell gold from fool’s gold. How can you tell if you have gold in you backyard? Where do you mostly find gold in the United states? To get to gold in the ground, how much digging do have to do? Could anybody dig for gold anytime in the United States? Who is writing to me?

    • WOW! You did a LOT more WONDERing about gold after you explored this Wonder of the Day®, Joey! We think that’s AWESOME!

      Part of the fun of Wonderopolis is that Wonder Friends can learn a little bit about something they WONDER about, explore the activities found in each Wonder, then they can set out on a quest to find more information themselves about the new WONDERS that pop into their head!

      We encourage you to start your own quest to find the answers to all your questions about gold. When you find some of them, you can share them with everyone here in Wonderopolis by leaving us another comment! We LOVE learning new things, too! :-)

    • Thanks for visiting Wonderopolis seven times, Noel! We really hope you’ll visit us again for an 8th time, and a 9th time, and a 10th time, and… EVERY day! :-)

    • Hello, Noel’s Little Sister! We’re glad you explored Wonderopolis today and learned some new things just like Noel! You’re a GREAT Wonder Friend! :-)

  33. Hi wonderopolis! I learned that fool’s gold is
    not real gold. I thought it was interesting because I did not know a lot of stuff you put in the wonder. The picture on the front of the cover, is it a photograph or a painting?
    I learned a lot, like some people found gold!
    I wonder who took this picture and how long
    has wonderopolis been wonderopolis?

    • WOW! You asked a lot of great questions, Audrey! We like it when our Wonder Friends do extra WONDERing! The picture of the fool’s gold is a photograph, although we’re not sure who took the picture (we’re sure glad the photographer did, though!). Did you know that we share a new, exciting Wonder of the Day® every single day here in Wonderopolis? So, if today’s Wonder is Wonder #487, that means that Wonderopolis has been around for 487 days! :-)

  34. We think that telling the difference between gold and fool’s gold is tricky! Where can you get real gold? We looked at fool’s gold this week and it looked pretty and shiny. Where can we find pyrite?

    • Those are GREAT questions, Miss Greiser’s Kindergarten! You can find pyrite and gold naturally in many states across the U.S. Colorado is known as a good place to find pyrite, and you can pan for gold in creeks and streams from the west coast to the east, as well as the north and the south! We think that’s really COOL! Thanks for WONDERing about gold with us today! :-)

    • Thanks for sharing what you think about fool’s gold, Tanner! We’re glad you stopped by Wonderopolis today and left us this comment! :-)

    • Great question, Adrian! We Wonder if you can do some more research of your own about gold– we bet you could find some fun facts! We’re so glad you’re here at Wonderopolis with us! :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • What is fool’s gold?
  • Why is gold so valuable?
  • Does pyrite have any uses today?

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Try It Out

Ready to become a rock star? No, you don’t need a drum set or a guitar. You just need a place to explore and a sense of adventure.

Many kids love to explore their backyard or neighborhood, searching for all sorts of interesting rocks and minerals. Not only is it fun, but it’s also educational. You can learn a lot about the geology of your area by gathering rocks and researching them.

So grab a cardboard box or a bucket and head out into the great outdoors in search of some neat rocks. Look for interesting shapes and beautiful colors. Check in shallow stream beds and along hillsides.

When your adventure is complete and you have some samples, bring them home and clean them up. Wash off excess dirt outside with a garden hose and then find a soft cloth to polish them.

If you want to try to identify the rocks you found, use a website like Rocks for Kids to learn more about the rocks you found. You can also learn how to display your rocks and start your very own rock collection!


Still Wondering

In National Geographic Xpeditions’ The Quest for Gold activity, children discover the value of gold, which has been important to trading throughout time.


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