stalactite and stalagmite

stalactitestəlăk´tīt [key] and stalagmite stəlăg´mīt [key], mineral forms often found in caves; sometimes collectively called dripstone. A stalactite is an icicle-shaped mass of calcite attached to the roof of a limestone cavern. Groundwater trickling through cracks in the roofs of such caverns contains dissolved calcium bicarbonate. When a drop of water comes in contact with the air of the cavern, some of the calcium bicarbonate is transformed into calcium carbonate, which is precipitated out of the water solution and forms a ring of calcite on the roof of the cavern. By repetition of this process the length and thickness of the stalactite is increased. A stalagmite is a cone of calcite rising from the floor of a cavern. Stalagmites and stalactites are often found in pairs, the stalagmite being formed as a result of further evaporation and precipitation from solution after the trickle of water falls from the stalactite. Stalactites and stalagmites often meet each other to form solid pillars. Curtains of dripstone sometimes form when water drips from the ceiling of a cave along joint planes. Since stalactites, stalagmites, and curtains of dripstone form only in the presence of air, their existence in a cave indicates that the cave was above the water table while the dripstone was forming. The many colors often seen in these formations are caused by the presence of impurities. Celebrated caverns that owe much of their beauty to their stalactites and stalagmites are Mammoth Cave, Ky.; the Luray Caverns, Va.; and the Carlsbad Caverns, N.Mex. Onyx marble (Mexican onyx, Egyptian alabaster, or Oriental alabaster), used as a decorative stone, is derived from stalagmites and stalactites, as well as from similar deposits.

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