Twilight of the Giants
January 20, 2010 5:36 PM   Subscribe

Last chance to see: Video of Mexico's Naica Cave of Crystals (Previously, and previously.)

This magma-heated cave in the Chihuahua region is in a working silver and lead mine. The cave is known for its extraordinary selenite crystals; some having grown over 10 metres (33 feet) long. It is so hot and humid inside that human lungs soon become the coolest surface. With the rapid condensation one can literally drown breathing the air within minutes. The logistics of safely entering it are "mind-boggling."

Since the mining company is not making any money keeping the cave open, it is soon to be re-flooded with water. Fortunately scientists had enough time to find out a while back how it formed. And the geology of the area suggests that there could be more crystal caves nearby.
posted by Hardcore Poser (19 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
This is why I love Metafilter. Awesomely cool post.
posted by caddis at 7:17 PM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

I stumbled on a TV documentary about the cave the other day and was pretty entranced not only by the crystal formations themselves but also by the intensity of the people venturing inside -- even short trips inside were harrowing and potentially life threatening. It seemed as close to being on another planet as any environment on earth.
posted by camcgee at 7:41 PM on January 20, 2010

It's so amazingly beautiful. But as a claustrophobe who dislikes heat, watching video of someone in there gives me the serious heebee jeebees. I've wondered how long it would be before it was declared off limits (or destroyed by the change in environment since it was drained).
posted by gofargogo at 7:48 PM on January 20, 2010

I wonder if Superman knows they are going to flood his cave.
posted by empty vessel at 7:53 PM on January 20, 2010 [4 favorites]

the geology of the area suggests that there could be more crystal caves nearby.

The geology suggests that the Earth's crust is riddled with 'em. I'm really looking forward to the further development of seismographic 3D mapping by interpolating "thumps". Once that process gets down to the scale of a metre or so, we'll find some fascinating stuff.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 8:11 PM on January 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

posted by Severian at 8:11 PM on January 20, 2010

This most amazing cave on the planet, and it's going to be flooded? WTF

Shouldn't someone be trying to purchase the land and preserve it?
posted by Windopaene at 8:20 PM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

I wish I could find it, but I recall reading that flooding it is returning it to its natural state, which is how all those crystals grew in the first place.
posted by mendel at 8:32 PM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

You're right, mendel; the second link talks about how the crystals grew in the constant-temperature underwater:
The hollow space of the cave was filled with this mineral rich hot water and remained filled for about 500,000 years. During this time, the temperature of the water remained very stable at over 50 degrees C. This allowed microscopic crystals to form and grow. Due to the perfect conditions inside, they were able to keep growing until the silver miners pumped away the ground water in order to explore deeper.
That's actually what I was vaguely getting at with my 're-flooding' wording.

What's amazing to me is that a natural formation such as this isn't in more demand for some form of public exhibition: Robotic tours, guide your own camera; are there only a few people like us so fascinated that there couldn't be a way to make enough silver to keep it open?
posted by Hardcore Poser at 8:43 PM on January 20, 2010

I think it's best that it be re-flooded. We've already got a lot of really cool photos and some interesting data. Fill 'er back up and let the crystals start growing again. If we keep it open, it's only a matter of time before the damage starts, either by clumsy visitors or from the lack of water supporting the features.
posted by echo target at 8:52 PM on January 20, 2010 [4 favorites]

OK, didn't realize the crystals had formed underwater. Still hard to believe it will be "gone".
posted by Windopaene at 9:07 PM on January 20, 2010

Wow, this is amazing! I hadn't heard it was being closed down and re-flooded, and I had only seen still pictures before this. Totally worth the update post. I'm sure pictures of this cave will continue to be in every intro geology lecture on minerals for the rest of time.
posted by DanielDManiel at 10:01 PM on January 20, 2010

From the article: Whenever people around me were faffing around with equipment, I'd just stop and look around at the crystals.

This word. Oh yes. "Faffing." Love it. I looked it up and it means messing about and wasting time.

Like I imagine an English person would say: "Oi, get the ell out my chair cat, I need to log into Metafilter and do some faffing. I do, I do. "
posted by Skygazer at 10:01 PM on January 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

Great article btw. Those caves are mind-blowing. Mind faffing even...
posted by Skygazer at 10:02 PM on January 20, 2010

I was merely amazed... until the spot in the video when the narrator walked out along the crystal spar, clearly several meters long, as though it were a fallen tree.

Below him, jagged crystals and rocks. Oh, and if he does fall, rescue teams will be hampered by the heat and humidity, while he could simultaneously drown with dew-laden lungs and die of heat exhaustion.


Still want to go!
posted by IAmBroom at 11:35 PM on January 20, 2010

"There's nothing new under the sun" This cave, being underground, seems to be the exception that proves the rule.
posted by From Bklyn at 11:50 PM on January 20, 2010

Seeing these makes me wonder what other kinds of enormously cool things are even further down in the crust and mantle.

It's mostly dinosaurs, balrogs and Great Old Ones, unfortunately.
posted by JHarris at 12:38 AM on January 21, 2010 [6 favorites]

Turtles all the way down.
posted by _Lasar at 1:29 AM on January 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

These caves are like a more awesome, larger scale, natural - did I say more awesome? - thing like Roger Hiorns: Seizure. Which had me totally awestruck and silent. Pictures just couldn't do it justice.


"Oi, get the ell out my chair cat, I need to log into Metafilter and do some faffing. I do, I do. " - Skygazer

Nah, we wouldn't use faffing like that. I think faffing needs "around" or "about" after it, eg:
"Oi, cat, stop faffing about and get the ell owt mi chair"
"yeah, I was just faffing about and not really doing anything"
"stop faffing around and do some work"


posted by 13twelve at 5:44 AM on January 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

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