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The Bismuth Stepwell

One of the Marvelous detritus that Tumblr occasionally spits out is this large bismuth crystal. As with most things on Tumblr, no other information is given, especially whether this sample was found naturally occurring or artificially grown. It's most likely the latter, which would explain the highly pronounced stair-step lattice distinctive to hopper crystals like bismuth. This characteristic structure occurs due to the crystal growing faster along the edges than at the center. As more mineral molecules are attracted to the edges, leaving less and less to fill the interior sections, the crystal craters. As for its iridescent color, that is due to oxidation.

If you want to make your own bismuth crystal, there are certainly plenty of YouTube instructionals for that, including this. In fact, bismuth has a low melting point (271°C or 520°F) that you could probably use a regular stove and some old kitchen wares rather than a fully outfitted smelting lab.

Though perhaps the world needs a smelting lab dedicated solely to fabricating gigantic bismuth crystals. A fantamagical stepwell factory.


Out in the desert or deep in the rain forest or hidden in a mountain valley, pools of molten bismuth are allowed to cool and crater down into the mantel, spiraling as they excavate their own labyrinths, like divining rods probing the earth for water to fill their lidos in the making. Not the comparatively uncomplicated “inverted ziggurats” they are usually described as, rather these bismuth stepwells might be more akin to a cancerous mass of Borobudurs hybridized with fetus in fetu Ankor Wats, inverted.

And then the factory is dismantled and carted away, leaving these “deeply wrinkled surfaces,” as Mary-Ann Ray might put it, for travelers to discover. “Like pieces on a game board, travelers move around within and upon it, discovering possible relationships with other travelers, hiding, seeking, losing, finding, passing by, encountering, entrapping, nearly missing.”

Tarsem Singh eventually flies in to film his interpretation of Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth.

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