Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A rare glimpse of the cave of crystals From BBC News

Mexico's Cave of Crystals stunned geologists when it was first discovered in 2000. The underground chamber contains some of the largest natural crystals ever found - some of the selenite structures have grown to more than 10m long. Professor Iain Stewart got a rare glimpse of the subterranean spectacle while filming for the new BBC series How the Earth Made Us.

Professor Stewart describes the cave as a geological wonder of the world
We kept on being told how difficult it was going to be to film in the Naica Cave, but nothing really prepares you for the extremes of that cavern.

It's about 50C in there, but it's the virtually 100% humidity added on top that makes it a potential killer.

That combination means that when you breathe air into your body, the surface of your lungs is actually the coolest surface the air encounters. That means the fluid starts to condense inside your lungs - and that's really not good news.

When the cave was first discovered it was just an accident.

Miners working in the Naica silver mine broke through the walls of the cavern and were astounded to discover these enormous crystals - the biggest anywhere on Earth.

But when the first people went in to explore, they were almost overcome by the conditions - and there's some pretty hairy video footage of them coming out of the cave on the verge of losing consciousness. So we knew the dangers were real.

When you first look at the kit your first thought is: "Is that it?"

There's a special cooling suit - which is basically like a suit of chain mail but filled with ice cubes.

Then there's a breathing system which feeds cool, dry air into your mask.

It's OK to take the mask off for a short while, but do without it for more than about 10 minutes, and it's likely that you're going to start keeling over.

I was lucky of course. All I had to do was stand there and talk, but the cameraman and all the others helping set out the lights were having to work in these conditions, wearing these cumbersome suits, and they really struggled.

We had a doctor outside the cave to monitor our vital signs, and we were coming out of the cavern with our heart rates up at 180.

The biggest danger was falling over; rescuing someone inside would have been very tricky.

Despite all the dangers, my overwhelming memory is the sheer beauty of the place.

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

It's such a glorious place, it's like being in a modern art exhibit.

I kept reminding myself: "You're in the Naica Cave", because there's only a handful of geologists that have ever been in there, and so I was aware of how incredibly privileged I was.

Yet remarkably, for the people who own and run the Naica mine, the crystal cave is a side-show, a distraction.

They don't make any money out of it and sooner or later, when the economics of the mine change, it will close.

The pumps will be taken out, the mine and the cave will flood, and the crystals will once more be out of our reach.

But perhaps we should console ourselves with the thought that there are certainly lots more crystal caves waiting to be discovered.

For starters, the geology of the area around the cave suggests that there could be more crystal caves in the area around Naica.

But more broadly, the Earth's crust must be riddled with wonders like this.

We know more about the outer edges of the Solar System than we do about the first kilometre of the Earth's crust.

As we learn more about the crust, we can be sure that there will be discoveries even more spectacular than Naica. I just hope I'm around to see them.

How the Earth Made Us: The epic story of how geology, geography and climate have influenced mankind is on Tuesday 19th January on BBC Two at 2100 GMT

From the BBC News.
Tinking on the title will redirect you to the original article with a really interesting video of the cave. Surreal.

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Banana This; Recycle Old Peels~ fertilizer or silver polish

There are things you can do with that old peel.

1. Do you have a green thumb? House hold plants and outside gardens require fertilization. A great way to give your plants nutrients is with a banana peel. The banana peel is very rich in potassium and phosphorus, which give that added boost to your plants soil, especially so with roses. Here is how to use a banana peel to fertilizer your soil for your plants. Remove the peel from the banana. Place the banana peel on a cookie sheet to let it air dry. Grab a paper bag or envelope. Crumble the dried banana peel and place it in the bag. Let the banana sit at room temperature for about two days. When your caring for your plant, give it a potassium treat of crumbled banana peel. Mix well in the soil to ensure the roots are fed evenly.
2. Have you been thinking about pulling out that old silver? Well there is no time like the present. Bananas peel can also be used to polish silver. Yes, polish silver. Take the old peels and place them in a blender. You want the peels to become smooth and creamy. Once they have, grab a cloth and small amounts of the creamed banana peel and begin polishing your silver. The shine will be breath taking.


Wild yeasts exist in the air around you and to some extent on the wheat berries. There are wild yeasts on grapes (unsulphured) and apples and other fruits. It is those wild yeasts which are 'captured' to make a sourdough starter. The process takes from 3 to 5 days. I wish I had specific amounts for you, but you could start with 1/4 to 1/2 cup of flour and mix in enough warm (not hot) water to make a thin paste. DO NOT make it too soupy. That, in fact, is the trick to a good starter, according to the French bread makers, and I think they should know. And after you've fooled around with the flour and water thing, you might wish to branch out into adding those unsulphured grapes, apples, sour milk, etc as a catalyst in order to capture other strains of yeast. Each of these strains has a slightly different taste. In fact if you move to another area, you might end up with a starter that produces an entirely different flavor. For instance, San Francisco sourdough bread is well known and has a distinct taste due to the wild strains in the air there. On day one you mix the flour and water (and add any catalysts to encourage fermentation) and place in a warm spot. After 3 days, the dough should be moist, inflated, and slightly sour. More flour and water is added (mixed in) and left to sit in a warm spot. After 2 days the process is repeated. Then the next day it is done again. Note the order: 3 days, 2 days, 1 day. At this point you should be able to make a loaf of bread using part of the starter and adding back what you took out in the form of more flour and water. Rule of thumb: Use about 10% starter to size of loaf. In the case of a 2 lb loaf this is a bit over 3 oz of starter (3.2 to be exact). For a 1 lb loaf 1.5 oz would be used. A book that describes this process in great detail is The Village Baker by Joe Ortiz, copyright 1993, published by Ten Speed Press, Berkley CA. If it's not still in print, try the used books stores, that's where I got mine. Or try your local library. If they don't have it, they might be able to get it for you. ©2008 by Ernestina Parziale

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