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Naica, Mexico is home to a number of lead and silver mines. It is also home to a geological formation that appears to be unique in all the world: the Crystal Cave of Giants, discovered accidentally by mine workers in 2000.

The Crystal Cave is a gigantic underground formation containing the largest natural crystal formations ever recorded. The cave is superheated by a pocket of subsurface magma, and until recently was entirely flooded with water that was supersaturated with gypsum and other minerals. The combination of high temperature, superheated and supersaturated water, and time (lots of it--about 500,000 years, to be exact) produced one of the most mind-bogglingly beautiful things on earth:



The cave has been pumped dry by mine workers, who accidentally broke into it while mining for lead. It's still superheated by magma; the temperature within the cave is a steady 122 degrees F with a humidity of over 90%. Explorers in the cave use special chilled suits and breathing masks, and even with this equipment can only remain within it for 15-45 minutes at a time.



The cave is doomed; when the mines are played out over the next few years, the mining companies will stop pumping the water out, and the influx of new, non-supersaturated water will destroy the crystal formations. There's more about the cave, and more pictures, here.



I love the physical world. There is not a single day of my life that goes by when I am not boggled and awestruck by how magnificent this universe is. Should I live to be ten thousand years old, I will never, ever stop being awestruck by how awesome all of this is. Take a handful of basic particles, make them obey certain fairly simple rules, and the things you end up with are beautiful and magnificent beyond comprehension.

We, as self-aware entities, are the part of the universe that understands itself, and that one simple fact gives us incalculable value. I will never understand the tendency of some people to turn away from the wonders of the physical world into a tiny, feeble make-believe universe that's a paltry six thousand years old and soon to be rendered obsolete by some invisible man with magic powers who lives up in the sky and spends a great deal of time worrying about what kind of clothes we wear and how we have sex.

The universe is incomprehensibly large and incomprehensibly fine-grained, ancient and mysterious and filled with so much beauty that it's hard to imagine any person seeing it without being filled with reverence and awe. The more we learn about the physical universe, the more beautiful and magnificent it is. The desire to turn away from understanding the world around us and retreat into an imaginary bestiary of little gods and demons is the desire to turn away from the greatest beauty we can ever hope to bear witness to.


Comments

( 24 comments — Leave a comment )
chipuni
Sep. 13th, 2009 11:00 pm (UTC)
Those pictures are ridiculously beautiful. Thank you!
addiejd
Sep. 13th, 2009 11:19 pm (UTC)
Wow.
ashbet
Sep. 14th, 2009 12:09 am (UTC)
Just out of curiosity -- I re-read the article, and I didn't see anything that said that the crystal formations would be destroyed when water was allowed to re-fill the cave, just that it would become inaccessible to humans again. Did you have another source that stated that, or was that something you read from the text of the article?

(The idea of the cave continuing to exist, just locked away underground, is a lot more comforting than the idea of the crystals being destroyed by the influx of new water!)

-- A <3
foxsong
Sep. 14th, 2009 05:14 pm (UTC)
If those are all selenite crystals, they'll eventually melt if the cave is filled with water again, isn't that the case? I seem to remember selenite is related to salt somehow...
tacit
Sep. 14th, 2009 06:05 pm (UTC)
That's true. The idea that the crystals are likely to disappear is an inference on my part, based on the notion that the groundwater is probably not supersaturated with gypsum. As the cave floods again and the water heats up, the gypsum crystals may end up dissolving.

Should the cave remain stable for a few hundred thousand more years, they'll probably re-form. I may also be wrong about the groundwater not being supersaturated with gypsum, in which case the cave will flood again but the crystals won't be destroyed.
icedrake
Sep. 15th, 2009 12:05 am (UTC)
I'd be curious about whether anyone is considering reintroducing gypsum into the groundwater reservoir or the cave directly, to restore the original (or nearly so) conditions. It being Mexico, I suspect the cave wouldn't be part of the environmental licensing requirements for the mine operators.
mellyjc
Sep. 14th, 2009 12:41 am (UTC)
Amazing, thank you for sharing. Sad they'll be destroyed, humans are so good at that.
greenquotebook
Sep. 14th, 2009 12:45 am (UTC)
May I borrow your commentary? I know about a hundred people who need to read it.

Also, my husband thinks you're brilliant and says that, if you're ever in the area (Greenville SC), you're welcome to stay with us. :)
tacit
Sep. 14th, 2009 06:06 pm (UTC)
You may! :)
skitten
Sep. 14th, 2009 01:30 am (UTC)
omg!!!! that's gotta be the coolest pix I've ever seen aside from the umm... rocker maxhine you posted a while back *grin*
joreth
Sep. 14th, 2009 03:19 am (UTC)
OMG I WANT TO GO THERE AND TAKE PICTURES!!!!
tacit
Sep. 14th, 2009 06:08 pm (UTC)
You'll need a new camera, and apparently you have to heat the camera up to 122 degrees over a long period or taking it into the cave will destroy it.
joreth
Sep. 14th, 2009 11:39 pm (UTC)
Yep! Saw that and I STILL want to do it!
datan0de
Sep. 14th, 2009 03:24 am (UTC)
OMG I WANT TO GO THERE AND HAVE SEX!!!!

Couldn't resist. It really is absolutely magnificent.
joreth
Sep. 14th, 2009 03:25 am (UTC)
If there was a way to actually do that and not die, I'm totally right there with you!
datan0de
Sep. 14th, 2009 03:28 am (UTC)
*puts on mad scientist/mad engineer hat and gets to work*
gypsybrat
Sep. 14th, 2009 06:58 am (UTC)
Just AWESOME!! Thanks for posting about it!
wherever
Sep. 14th, 2009 08:00 am (UTC)
Superman?
And here we thought the Fortress of Solitude was at the North Pole or something.

122 F doesn't seem like it's so hot that you couldn't stand it. It's been that hot here (in Arizona). I guess it's the humidity that gets you! ;)
tacit
Sep. 14th, 2009 06:07 pm (UTC)
Re: Superman?
Yep. The humidity is the killer; you can't sweat to stabilize your body temperature.
fallingupthesky
Sep. 15th, 2009 04:32 am (UTC)
Re: Superman?
Well, it *was* at the North Pole. But after awhile, the ice underneath it melted. And it sank. Then dissolved in the water. And I'm insane.
peristaltor
Sep. 14th, 2009 09:22 pm (UTC)
That is frickin' amazing.
twirlintwisting
Sep. 15th, 2009 05:13 am (UTC)
Long time reader and lurker ;)

Btw, you might enjoy this (if you don't already know him):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UB_htqDCP-s

Specifically from 7:09 onward.
semiramisnl
Sep. 15th, 2009 08:53 am (UTC)
I love how in this world, you can take the tiniest structure and multiply it, until you have the same thing, but huge. And I love how that same thing, on a different scale, can look (and make me feel) so different.

I am a goldsmith, I make small things, and I love walking around enormous buildings and recognizing in it the same basic structures I use when I make an ear stud or something. In the same way, it is fun to play with a tiny piece of amethyst from my workshop while looking at these awesome pictures!
stormkeeper
Sep. 23rd, 2009 12:45 pm (UTC)
That is pretty awesome, in every sense of the word... shame that it won't last long, but sadly, not many things do.

It reminds me of the phrase "the candle that burns twice as bright lasts half as long".

Well, I think it's that... at least I got the gist of it anyway.
( 24 comments — Leave a comment )