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Op-Ed: Up close view of anthodites, the 'Orchids of the Mineral Kingdom' Special

By Leigh Goessl     Apr 18, 2012 in Science
Front Royal - Anthodites are rare formations that occur in caves. Truly exquisite in nature, for the most part scientists are puzzled as to how they form.
Throughout the world, many caverns tours are available, but few have anthodites on display to the public. One such place that does have an impressive exhibit of anthodites is Skyline Caverns in Front Royal, Va.
A recent Digital Journal review of the Skyline Caverns showed a glimpse of the anthodites on the tour; these extraordinary formations are quite impressive.
Defined, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), states, "Aragonite, a calcium carbonate mineral similar to calcite but not as common, often occurs in intricate needles known as anthodites."
Anthodites are also referred to as the "Orchids of the Mineral Kingdom."
The formations truly illuminate one of nature's treasures. The detail is amazing and viewing them is a memorable experience, especially knowing it's such a rare sight.
On the tour, the group learned the anthodites were accidentally discovered in the 1930s when Dr. Walter Amos and his crew were trying to dig through some mud, and one of the workers had gotten a shovel stuck, which took several men to pull out. When Dr. Amos and his crew eventually extracted the shovel out, an explosion-like force occurred.
It turns out the crew had inadvertently stumbled upon an air vacuum and they'd broken the seal, not unlike the types of vacuums found in outer space, and we were told this kind of experience was rare on Earth. When this seal was punctured, the formations ceased to grow, and are now preserved in four stages of growth.
At the time of publish, Skyline had not immediately replied to Digital Journal's email inquiry about the four stages of anthodite growth.
The anthodites are protected by Virginia State Law and their presence is highly regulated. Visitors may not touch or remove anything from the cavern. The anthodites section of the caverns is kept behind a heavy door that is opened by the tour guide, visitors are welcomed in to view these special formations, which are protected by metal grates.
According to tour guides, several scientists have come to examine the Anthodites, but the exquisite formations hide their secrets well. Although, the mystery is said to add to their beauty. No one is entirely sure how these formations grew and what environmental conditions enable their growth. What is known is once the vacuum seal was broken, the growth ceased to occur.
James Van Gundy writes, "Their mode of formation is not well understood, but they presumably form in air-filled chambers by the slow precipitation of calcium carbonate from thin films of water that are held to their surface by capillary attraction."
Skyline Caverns are not nearly as large as some of the other cave formations discovered in the United States and throughout the world, however, they are no less amazing, especially since they boast these incredible Anthodites.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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