They say, ‘Go big or go home.’ Well, I don’t feel like going home, so I guess that means we’ll be going big today. We’re going to take a look at some of the largest, most impressive crystal formations ever found. This list isn’t in any particular order; we just wanted to showcase a variety of formations. Here are five of our favorites.
Naica Cave of Crystals
First, no list of huge crystal formations would be complete without the famous Naica Mine, located 300 meters below the ground. It’s one of the most jaw-dropping crystal formations ever discovered. The cavern itself is over 100 meters long and is home to some of the largest natural crystals in the world.
One of the crystals is over 11 meters long and is estimated to weigh about 12 tons. Unfortunately, the air down there was stiflingly hot, meaning researchers could only be down there for 10 minutes at a time due to breathing difficulties and the ever-present danger of hyperthermia. Even with a special ice-powered cooling suit, one could only explore the cave for about 30 minutes before the ice melted.
In fact, one worker tried to steal some selenite crystals from the cave but suffocated and died in the cave’s inhospitable conditions. That’s one of the reasons the cave was re-flooded with hot mineral-rich water in October 2015.
Crystal Mountain, Egypt
Alright, let’s get out of that cave and breathe some fresh air at the surface, where we find our next crystal formation. It’s not often that a sprawling crystal phenomenon like this one is found above ground, but that’s what makes it so cool. It’s found north of the White Desert in Egypt and is what’s known in geology as an exhumed cave. That means that this formed underground as a cave but over time was forced to the surface by the natural movement of the Earth’s crust. The result is a unique site known as the Crystal Mountain. It’s not literally a mountain; it just gets its name from a rough translation from the Arabic term for formation.
The crystals are barite and calcite and were exposed during road construction, which unfortunately damaged some of the crystals. Luckily, there are a whole bunch of them. They kind of remind me of those huge underground networks of mushrooms.
Anyways, these crystals are the result of hydrothermal activity where very hot water seeped into seams and cracks deep underground, depositing the chemicals that allowed for the formation of this cave of crystals. But after millennia of geology shifting, this is one cave you don’t have to go spelunking to visit.
Crystal Tornadoes in Chile
Our next stop is also in the desert, but it’s halfway across the world in the Atacama Desert in Chile. A geologist noticed something very strange. It’s one of the most extreme environments on Earth, with some parts of the desert not having seen rain for literally centuries. The place is dry and hot. The harsh heat of the landscape, as well as the unique chemical composition, actually make for a great surrogate landscape for researchers wanting to study Mars. These arid conditions allow for the rapid evaporation of groundwater and the resultant formation of gypsum crystals.
The thing is, they were found strewn about and piled up in little heaps. Once again, the extreme heat was to blame. Dust devils are common in hot, dry areas and are caused by highly heated surfaces. The geologists watched as these vortex columns formed seemingly out of nowhere and traveled across the landscape for a few minutes.
Though it wasn’t directly observed, further investigations seemed to show that those gypsum crystals had been displaced by the twister. Imagine a dust devil full of high-speed flying crystal shards. Sharknado is starting to look pretty tame.
Nettle Bed Cave Crystal Pool
Let’s cool down a little and take a dip in our next crystal formation: the Nettle Bed Cave Crystal Pool. There are so many reasons this place is one of the coolest on Earth. At 1,174 meters down, it has literally never seen the light of day.
Imagine being the first one down there. You sweep your headlamp over, and you see this: a small cavern absolutely encrusted top to bottom with glimmering white calcite in various forms and a crystal-clear pool of water. Getting there take two days, but it took years to fully explore and map out. A site called Sanctuary Hall acts as the base camp, but it’s not my favorite spot in the cave. That would be Volcano Tube, Prickly Tube, Knobbly Tube, Porridge, or the Hinklehorn Honking Holes.
The cavern itself is a limestone cave with percolation water present all throughout. This water flow is the reason for speleothem formations throughout the system. Speleothems are secondary mineral formations that can occur in limestone caves, and they’re usually calcite, aragonite, or gypsum. The shapes of these formations can be influenced by both the crystal habit of the mineral as well as by the flow and drip of the water or the lack thereof if it’s a pond. As such, there’s a great variety to the crystals in this cave. The percolating water is also responsible for an effect called the Chinese Gongs, an eerie resonating echo caused by the slow dripping of water.
Lastly, we have a classic crystal formation, a favorite of many: nature’s Easter egg, the geode. But not just any geode, the Pulpy Geode. You can hold most geodes in your hand, but this one can easily hold you. It was found in an abandoned mine in the Almeria region of Spain and is 390 cubic feet. That’s about the same volume as a cement mixer.
If you can navigate a series of tunnels, a ladder, and a few tight squeezes, you’ll be met with a cozy cocoon of gypsum. Like the Nettle Bed Cave, this geode was formed by water with the right chemical combination to form crystals. The interesting thing about this geode, though, is that it was found dry, meaning the crystals likely haven’t grown for thousands of years.
They are also remarkably clear, and you can even see your hand through some of them. Plus, they lack the radioactive isotopes usually used to date really old rocks, so there’s a bit of mystery surrounding the age of this geode. Although a piece of carbonate crust on a piece of crystal was found to be about 60,000 years old, and if the crust is that old, the crystal itself must be older. Unlike some of the other formations on our list, this one is open to the public. As if you needed another reason to visit Spain.
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