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Spelunkers Explore Crystalline Cave In New Mexico 99

Posted by timothy
from the caves-rock dept.
onehitwonder writes "New Mexico cavers have set foot — for the first time ever — on a 'river' of tiny, white calcite crystals covering a four-mile stretch of the floor of the Fort Stanton Cave in New Mexico. The privileged few spelunkers who have explored the 'Snowy River' formation say they've seen nothing like it. Not only is Snowy River exquisite, it is also home to some three dozen species of microbes previously unknown to man."
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Spelunkers Explore Crystalline Cave In New Mexico

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  • by Adreno (1320303) on Thursday July 24, 2008 @09:44PM (#24329527)
    ... this isn't a cave at all, but a well-crafted hoax by some cauliflower farmers!
    • So that's what happened to John Mclean after Die Hard 4.0 - he grew a beard and started doing hip-hop videos on rivers of calcite crystals!

    • by b4thyme (1120461)
      Well they have got to do something to raise the price of cauliflower, its been falling for ages!
  • Beware (Score:3, Funny)

    by mazarin5 (309432) on Thursday July 24, 2008 @09:44PM (#24329531) Journal

    Beware of the Vril

  • by Anonymous Coward
    (USA-specific?) Cavers are low impact and responsible. "Spelunker" is considered derogatory, reserved for yahoos.
  • by Walking The Walk (1003312) on Thursday July 24, 2008 @10:22PM (#24329823)

    The real attraction, though, is under their shoes.

    If these crystals have never been observed before, shouldn't they be observing instead of walking on them?

    • by johannesg (664142)

      The real attraction, though, is under their shoes.

      If these crystals have never been observed before, shouldn't they be observing instead of walking on them?

      That's ok they've also never been walked on before. So that's also a first.

      Personally I'm more worried about the three dozen species of microbes we've never before encountered. If you read about a mysterious plague sweeping through Mexico and leaving no one alive, well - better get yourself enough water and food and ammo, and prepare to not let anyone near your house for a few months...

    • Re: (Score:2, Offtopic)

      by jamesh (87723)

      A recursive sig
      Can impart wisdom and truth
      GoTo start_of_sig

      That looks like an iterative sig to me... no wisdom or truth to be found here.

      • That looks like an iterative sig to me... no wisdom or truth to be found here.

        Good point. It was meant to be funny, though. Also, it's a haiku! How about this one?

        Sometimes a haiku
        Can be odd or incorrect
        Refrigerator

  • by Red Flayer (890720) on Thursday July 24, 2008 @10:38PM (#24329935) Journal

    Areas of Fort Stant on Cave are open to those who get permits from the BLM, but Snowy River -- deep in the cave behind locked metal gates -- is off-limits. It's unlikely Snowy River ever will be open to anything but research because of the fragility of the tiny calcite crystals and microbes on the cave walls.

    Ahh, I love the irony in the last paragraph of the article. Most of the article seems to be dedicated to lauding those who have walked on the Magical Mystery Floor of iCalcite Crystals... those who have obviously brought their foreign microbes to the fragile ecosystem...

    My question is, why is the Bureau of Land Management allowing *anyone* to disturb the system if it's so fragile? Why not send light-weight robots that have been disinfected? It's not like we don't have the technology.

    Oh yeah... something in the article about practicing for Europa and Mars exploration. Puh-leeze. Robotic exploration is how we'll explore Mars, even if we put people there. Ditto for Europa. Human life, sent millions and millions of miles, is too precious to risk on non-Earth spelunking.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by vux984 (928602)

      Human life, sent millions and millions of miles, is too precious to risk on non-Earth spelunking.

      As a representative of human life, I hereby volunteer to take that chance. I thin if you put the word out, people would be lined up around the block.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        too precious

        Ok, more like too fragile/needy.

      • by Alsee (515537)

        As a representative of human life, I hereby volunteer to take that chance. I thin if you put the word out, people would be lined up around the block.

        So, you're saying you should get picked for the mission because you can better squeeze and explore through narrow cracks and crevices?

        -

    • by belmolis (702863) <billposer AT alum DOT mit DOT edu> on Thursday July 24, 2008 @11:36PM (#24330271) Homepage

      It is likely that they have considered what is likely to disturb the ecology of the cave and what is not. The area has apparently never been completely isolated, and more recently people have been allowed to visit the main portion of the cave. It is therefore likely that the relatively minor bacterial contamination from the exposed faces and breath of the explorers is not considered dangerous. What is probably more important is not allowing large numbers of people to stomp around, break things, leave trash, and change the temperature, humidity, and gas composition by their body heat and exhalations.

    • by plasmacutter (901737) on Thursday July 24, 2008 @11:43PM (#24330331)

      Human life, sent millions and millions of miles, is too precious to risk on non-Earth spelunking.

      And this mentality is why we will not leave this planet until the second age of man, after the over-protective ninnies have been killed off in pillars of nuclear fire.

      Human life is precious, but the reason we have tamed frontiers right now is because before the mid 20'th century, it was also considered expendable for the greater good and survival of the species.

      If there are people willing and eager to go to these places, our society should enable them. They could die, sure, and relieve some of our population, and they could also do great things, expanding our horizons, resources, and habitable areas.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by drwho (4190)

        I wholeheartedly agree. Luckily, many of these people "don't believe in guns", and will be killed by those who do.

      • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        And each one we send will cost $100 million+. If you want to be a daredevil and pointlessly get yourself killed then go right ahead but do it on YOUR dime not societies. I'll support sending the guy who'll get the job that he was sent there for done instead of going on an ego or adrenaline trip.

        • And each one we send will cost $100 million+. If you want to be a daredevil and pointlessly get yourself killed then go right ahead but do it on YOUR dime not societies. I'll support sending the guy who'll get the job that he was sent there for done instead of going on an ego or adrenaline trip.

          I'm not interested on going on an ego or adrenaline trip. I want to do something truly constructive rather than be crammed into that tiny little box of "run on this hamster wheel doing pointless tasks to earn money to allow you to exist".

    • by DerekLyons (302214) <(fairwater) (at) (gmail.com)> on Friday July 25, 2008 @12:03AM (#24330425) Homepage

      Robotic exploration is how we'll explore Mars, even if we put people there.

       
      Given that a human geologist can accomplish in a month what it has take both Spirit and Opportunity years to do... Why would use robots when we send people?
       
       

      Human life, sent millions and millions of miles, is too precious to risk on non-Earth spelunking.

      What codswallop. Human life precious? There's billions of us, and many more each day, 99.99% of which accomplish little more than 'birth, school, work, death'. A single life risked in remote exploration accomplishes more than all those 99.99% combined.
       
       

      My question is, why is the Bureau of Land Management allowing *anyone* to disturb the system if it's so fragile? Why not send light-weight robots that have been disinfected? It's not like we don't have the technology.

      Actually, we don't have the technology - robots capable of exploration are heavy and have short operating times (think tens of yards) without being even larger and heavier to carry sufficient batteries or dragging an umbilical cable behind to provide power.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Eivind (15695)

        Because putting a human geologist on mars for a month would cost several orders of magnitude more than having spirit and opportunity there for years ?

        A human would need water,air,food,waste-management for the duration of the entire mission. And he'd need a method of -returning- from mars (suicide-mission would be politically unfeasible), which makes the entire thing a LOT more complicated than it is sending a robot.

        Yes. A geologist with adequate equipment is MUCH more effective and versatile than one of the

        • So now, you're changing your position - rather than sending people to supervise robots, we'll not send people at all?

          If you want to talk orders of magnitude - compare the total cost of the Rovers to date against the cost of a month of human exploration. You'll find the difference less than you expect, especially when you consider the actual length of a human expedition will (because of orbital mechanics) be a year or so, with multiple geologists, for very little more than that notional month. Then

      • Given that a human geologist can accomplish in a month what it has take both Spirit and Opportunity years to do...

        That's mainly because you're presuming that the humans will bring along an entire geology lab and a base station to do their work.

        So instead of sending humans (who will spend 99% of their time and money in the harrowing effort of simply not getting killed), send a robotic base station and geology lab instead. Throw in a bunch of rovers to gather the samples for the lab, and you'll most likely get more science done at 1/10th the cost of a human mission.

        • Given that a human geologist can accomplish in a month what it has take both Spirit and Opportunity years to do...

          That's mainly because you're presuming that the humans will bring along an entire geology lab and a base station to do their work.

          That's an assumption on your part - and an utterly and laughably incorrect one. All I'm presuming is the geologist will have a vehicle and the same instrument suite the MER's do. The geologist won't spend days deciding how to move two meters, and can make decisions

          • All I'm presuming is the geologist will have a vehicle and the same instrument suite the MER's do.

            Well, I assumed that you wanted to do something new that the MERs haven't already done. There's certainly no point now in sending humans at 1000X the cost to do what's already been done.

            If we hadn't sent robotic probes, your human mission would still not even have launched by now, so we still got the results earlier this way.

    • by Talkischeap (306364) on Friday July 25, 2008 @03:19AM (#24331401) Homepage

      "Why not send light-weight robots that have been disinfected? It's not like we don't have the technology.

      You obviously aren't a caver, and have never been deep in a "wild" cave.

      Perhaps you think that caves have BIG "Hollywood" entrances, and have floors that are boulevard flat, and perhaps there is a little "ambient" light like in caves in the movies.

      I can safely say that there is currently no robot in existence that can fully navigate most caves (worth exploring) on the planet.

      Perhaps small portions of a few, but not deep into them.

      I've been exploring in caves where I'm literally two hours from the entrance, and a 150 foot climb up a rope to exit the cave, yet I'll squeeze through a body tight hole just to see where it "goes".

      So I'll exhale and push forward an inch, and then do it again, and repeat until I'm through.

      And then after exploring around I have to come back through, but a robot would have been stopped by this "tight spot".

      Cavers sometimes need to "move rocks" to progress down the (hopefully virgin) cave passage, and I can't see any cave navigable robot being able to move a 100 pound rock, let alone the hundreds of pounds of rock like I've moved many times in less sensitive caves.

      Many "serious" caves require a rope drop of a hundred feet or more to enter, and a climb to exit, and how many robots can do that?

      Oh, none.

      Now lets talk energy... it takes a great deal of energy to navigate a cave environment, and unless you have a looong extension cord no robot is going very far into any wild cave.

      And nobody is going to carry a heavy robot deep into a cave so it can "scoop booty"... no way.

      It may be decades before humans are replaced as cave explorers on Earth.

      Mars is a different story, and all the caves targeted have huge Hollywood entrances, and the "robots" likely won't be entering very far into them at all.

      And "big up" to Jim Goodbar, he took us deeeep into Cottonwood 20 years ago.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Bender0x7D1 (536254)

        You're thinking of a big robot. We have also invented many types of small, flying robots that wouldn't have to walk on the floor, climb ropes or move rocks to get into a space. Sure, they can't do as much as a human, but they could take some pictures and maybe collect some samples. Even if they only have a few minutes of battery power, they could still go a lot of places that a human can't. These could easily be carried by a human into the cave and then deployed from a "forward position".

        • Actually, you're in science fiction land if you believe there are ANY robots capable of exploring most Earth based caves.

          Go take a "wild cave" tour sometime, and see for yourself what challenges a robot would have to overcome.

          I've hauled dive tanks deep into a cave to push a sump, and NO WAY I'm taking in a HEAVY robot.

          I'll bet you've never backpacked, have you?

          Every ounce matters when it's you carrying it.

          In a cave that's multiplied because we have to save the energy to climb out of the cave (as in up

          • Again, I'm talking small robots that weigh in at a few ounces just big enough to mount a small camera, light and battery power for a few minutes. Think more in terms of a remote controlled helicopter than a large rover of some sort.

            Oh, and I have "backpacked". I was Marine infantry for 4 years and got to drag around a lot of heavy gear and you didn't worry about weight - you worried about what you needed. Want to know what really sucks? Try doing a field op where they give you a 25% casualty rate and yo

      • by jonnythan (79727)

        Ahh, a caver's favorite phrase...

        "It goes!!"

      • Well, if it were a contest between you trying doing all that in a bulky space suit before your oxygen runs out vs a housecat-sized nuclear powered robot that could patiently spend months exploring one cave, I'd put my money on the robot.

        • How about a housecat android made by Hyundai?

        • "I'd put my money on the robot".

          Put your money on the robot that doesn't exist, and won't, for at least a few decades?

          Sounds like a bad investment to me.

          I'll bet you play the slots in Vegas too.

          • Put your money on the robot that doesn't exist, and won't, for at least a few decades?

            So you put your money on an equally non-existant human astronaut on Mars. Who NASA allows to go exploring in dangerous caves.

            I bet you play state lottery scratchoff games, too.

            • "So you put your money on an equally non-existant human astronaut on Mars. Who NASA allows to go exploring in dangerous caves. I bet you play state lottery scratchoff games, too."

              d00d... didn't you read my previous comment about cave exploration on Mars?

              Here, I'll repost it since you apparently didn't read it: "It may be decades before humans are replaced as cave explorers on Earth. Mars is a different story, and all the caves targeted have huge Hollywood entrances, and the "robots" likely won't be enter

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by jonnythan (79727)

      The "crystal" in this cave isn't super-exquisite, fragile crystal glass. It's not the Fortress of Solitude or anything. It's just white calcite. There's calcite all over caves all over the world. The stuff is essentially rock.

      The distinguishing features here are that there's so much of it on the floor, as opposed to the wall and ceiling, and that it was mostly unadulterated by sediment during its formation and is therefore a snowy white instead of brown.

      The stuff isn't exactly fragile. Bacteria from shoes a

  • I assume the government has made the right choice and sent Indiana Jones in? You know, him having the most experience in matters of crystalline archaeological matters.
    • he was busy so they're gonna send in Dr Daniel Jackson. They say he knows a thing or two about crystals lol.
  • by Fluffeh (1273756) on Thursday July 24, 2008 @11:10PM (#24330127)
    From the article [yahoo.com]

    It took several months for Snowy River to dry out, leaving scientists with another set of questions about where the water came from and where it went.

    Well, it came in at one end of the cave, likely uphill from the other end. It then made it's way through the cave that is at the center of this puzzlement. Amazingly, and rather surprisingly it went out the other end of the cave, downhill from the aforementioned uphill part of the cave. That's also the opposite direction of where it came from. Next question please.

    • Re: (Score:1, Flamebait)

      by Alsee (515537)

      Does God exist?

      -

      • by rthille (8526)

        No. At least nothing exists that matches anything that someone has described both as 'God' and specifies with any precision.

        • by Alsee (515537)

          Agreed. I was just trying to humorously play off his "Next question please" line, hoping for a similar style answer.
          And I got modded Flamebait for it. LOL.

          -

      • by Fluffeh (1273756)
        Of course he does. For the most part. Ask any religious person if he exists. He has been around for a long time, mainly doing nothing much - but watching. Which is a little too convenient if you ask those non-religious types. So, he came along (or always existed) made us (just ask any American high school student) and has basically sat back and observed his (or her) little experiment plod along. Of course there is the other school of thinking that has God as a entity that we created so that we would not fee
  • by belmolis (702863) <billposer AT alum DOT mit DOT edu> on Thursday July 24, 2008 @11:41PM (#24330311) Homepage

    I guess nobody else has noticed it so I will be the first to point out that this cave is just outside of Roswell. Need we say more?

  • "Spelunkers Explore Crystalline Cave in New Mexico, find issue of Spelunker Today in a dead end."

  • Real Full Headline (Score:5, Informative)

    by mdm42 (244204) on Friday July 25, 2008 @03:05AM (#24331329) Homepage Journal

    "Spelunkers Explore Crystalline Cave in New Mexico; A Hollow Voice Says 'plugh'."

  • by Alsee (515537)

    some three dozen species of microbes previously unknown to man

    One of the things I most hate about women is that they're so damn secretive about stuff.

    -

    • by ivan256 (17499)

      One of the things I most hate about female sexists: They can't come to terms with the fact that one of the definitions of 'man' is a synonym for our species. It isn't just a reference to a male human.

  • I'm no geologist, but as I understand it, a river is traditionally liquid.
    • I'm no geologist, but as I understand it, a river is traditionally liquid.

      Granular materials can behave sort of like liquids under the right conditions, such as when large forces are present or when examined at long time scales.

      Not that these conditions are necessarily present in this case.

      But, while I'm also not a geologist, I believe sometimes a river can be made out of metaphor. :P

  • Crystalline Cave? Yeah, I was there when I was 7. C64, Fort Apocalypse. ... What do you mean "different cave?"
  • They find themselves in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike, and maybe a huge green fierce snake bars the way!
  • Unknown doesn't mean alien or vastly different than known terrestrial microbes - it would be nice if a little more detail was included.

    At this point it seems like none of the deeply hidden microbes that have been found have been harmful to human life, but that could also be due to the limited interaction with them.

    I wouldn't want to get a cut on the rock wall. It is probable that any bacteria would be supsceptible to our normal first or second line antibiotics, having never been exposed to them before but

    • "I wouldn't want to get a cut on the rock wall. "

      I've cut myself multiple times in caves, on multiple trips, and I've never contracted anything "bad".

      In fact... cavers are looking in caves to find new antibiotics, so it's not the problem you seem to be afraid of.

  • "You are in a cave, about 10' high by 15' wide. It smells dank and is dark except for your torches.

    You see this foamy looking stuff all over the floor ahead. If is fairly thick. What do you do?"

    "I stick out my sword and touch it. What happens?"

    "Your sword dinks against it. It is quite hard and rocky. It's actually crystals. Roll a d20."

    (guy rolls a 17)

    "Ohhhh, god, I'm sorry. You can't find a date for Friday or Saturday night."

I've never been canoeing before, but I imagine there must be just a few simple heuristics you have to remember... Yes, don't fall out, and don't hit rocks.

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