Top Image of 2010: The Lost Crystal Ice Caves – A Biological Mystery Deep Beneath the Earth (VIDEO)

6a00d8341bf7f753ef013488172891970c.jpg

Encased in ice-cooled orange suits, scientists explore the Cave of Crystals, discovered a thousand feet (304 meters) below Naica, Mexico, in 2000. Expeditions in 2008 and 2009 uncovered biological mysteries, parallels with other planets, and the "Ice Palace," an unexplored cavern lined with rare crystal formations.


Discovered my miners in 2000, the Cave of Crystals displays enormous beams of gypsum—among the largest freestanding crystals in the world—sprouting haphazardly from the ceiling, floor, and walls a thousand feet (304 meter) underground. This is one of a series of glittering caverns beneath Mexico's Chihuahuan Desert's Naica mountain. The two-story-tall, football-field-size Cave of Crystals, is anything but haphazard, sporting the sharp, geometric appearance that scientists call euhedral. The translucent columns also resemble giant pillars of ice but are warmed by superheated air leaking up from underground magma chambers. The combination of 90 percent humidity and a temperature of 118 degrees Fahrenheit (48 degrees Celsius) inside the cave can kill an unprepared human in just 30 minutes. "It's a terrible and magical environment all at the same time," said Penelope Boston, an astrobiologist and cave scientist in the National Geographic Channel documentary Into the Lost Crystal Caves.

"The Galaxy" in Your Inbox, Free, Daily