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Oct 31 / Dave Schumaker

The Naica Giant Crystals – Cueva de los Cristales

Source: Carsten Peter, Speleoresearch & Films

The above image looks like something out of a strange (and inevitably horrible) geology related movie. However, this extraordinary landscape is real and located in a remote part of Mexico, an hour south of Chihuahua. Known as the Cueva de los Cristales, it was discovered by miners in 2000.

Nothing compares with the giants found in Cueva de los Cristales, or Cave of Crystals. The limestone cavern and its glittering beams were discovered in 2000 by a pair of brothers drilling nearly a thousand feet below ground in the Naica mine, one of Mexico’s most productive, yielding tons of lead and silver each year. The brothers were astonished by their find, but it was not without precedent. The geologic processes that create lead and silver also provide raw materials for crystals, and at Naica, miners had hammered into chambers of impressive, though much smaller, crystals before. But as news spread of the massive crystals’ discovery, the question confronting scientists became: How did they grow so big?


In their architecture crystals embody law and order, stacks of molecules assembled according to rigid rules. But crystals also reflect their environment. Spanish crystallographer Juan Manuel García-Ruiz was one of the first to study the Naica crystals beginning in 2001. More familiar with microscopic crystals, García was dizzied by the proportions of the Naica giants. By examining bubbles of liquid trapped inside the crystals, García and his colleagues pieced together the story of the crystals’ growth. For hundreds of thousands of years, groundwater saturated with calcium sulfate filtered through the many caves at Naica, warmed by heat from the magma below. As the magma cooled, water temperature inside the cave eventually stabilized at about 136°F. At this temperature minerals in the water began converting to selenite, molecules of which were laid down like tiny bricks to form crystals. In other caves under the mountain, the temperature fluctuated or the environment was somehow disturbed, resulting in different and smaller crystals. But inside the Cave of Crystals, conditions remained unchanged for millennia. Above ground, volcanoes exploded and ice sheets pulverized the continents. Human generations came and went. Below, enwombed in silence and near complete stasis, the crystals steadily grew. Only around 1985, when miners using massive pumps lowered the water table and unknowingly drained the cave, did the process of accretion stop.

Source: Carsten Peter, Speleoresearch & Films

And check out this incredible video of an expedition into the caves:

Wow. Bet that beats any geology field trips you’ve ever been on

[via io9]

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