Iotw: Constellations in the Dark

Week of February 10, 2014

Spelunk.

Both an amusing word and a worthwhile experience for surface dwellers like me and (probably) you.

There’s something unsettling about the stillness and darkness inside a cave. Or a lava tube, like the one I was in. But the uneasy excitement is  mixed with a calm coziness. Dark, still, tepid air presses in all around. Narrow beams from your headlamp illuminate the harsh volcanic rocks to either side, but throw shadows that swallow entire tunnels.

Sometimes, the beams catch something and rebound in an iridescent flash of gold and silver. First it happens in small patches, then across large stretches of tunnel’s ceiling.

Constellations in the Dark Photo: Max Odland

Constellations in the Dark
Photo: Max Odland

It turns out, these caves in Lava Beds National Monument are home to a bacterium that doesn’t play nicely with water. A close look reveals the constellations painted across the walls and ceilings as tiny beads of water, suspended on the dry surface of the microorganisms.

Light is a stranger here… but it creates a breathtaking scene in these dark tubes.

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