Friday, June 3, 2011

Mexico's Crystal Cave and Astrobiologist Boston

"Pictures: Return to the Crystal Caves"
Crystal Underworld, National Geographic (October 8, 2010)

"Encased in ice-cooled orange suits, scientists explore the Cave of Crystals, discovered a thousand feet (304 meters) below Naica (map), Mexico, in 2000...."

(Oscar Necoechea, Speleoresearch & Films/NGT, via National Geographic, used w/o permission)
Cave of Crystals under Naica, Mexico.

The article this photo page identifies those improbable-looking things as gypsum crystals. Among the largest in the world. Largest known, anyway.

Despite looking like ice crystals, the cave is hot - folks exploring it need refrigerated suits: ice packs and respirators keep the spelunkers and the air they breathe (comparatively) cool.

The photo looked a little familiar - the Lemming checked, and sure enough, there's a post in this blog with another picture of the same cave. (August 2, 2008)

The National Geographic article that's linked to the one with eleven photos of the Crystal Caves (including a full-size version of the one in this post) says that there's life down there:

"...Though the calling card of the horseshoe-shaped Cave of Crystals may be its massive mineral formations, some of its biggest surprises are literally microscopic.

"In 2008 a team of scientists, including New Mexico Tech's [astrobiologist and cave scientist Penelope ] Boston, investigated the cave and found microbial life living in tiny air pockets in the crystals.

"In December 2009 Boston returned to the cave with another team. From pools of water that hadn't been present during her first trip, the scientists collected bacteria as well as viruses that prey on the bacteria—something that was suspected but had not been confirmed on the first expedition...."
(National Geographic)

"Astrobiologist?!" Isn't that science-fiction stuff: "Beam me up Scotty" and all that? Not so much. And that's another topic.

Somewhat-related posts:

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