After 225 million years, you could say Opal was more than ready for her closeup, Mr. DeMille.
Only her name probably shouldn’t be Opal — Agatha might actually be closer to her correct geological classification.
One thing’s for sure though: She rocks.
For nearly three weeks now, a photograph of a spectacular specimen of petrified wood has been going viral. It appears in at least 17 discussion groups on Reddit, one of which has more than 41,000 votes and another of which has more than 37,000. And that doesn’t include the thousands of comments.
Elsewhere, the photo has been Tweeted, Facebooked and Pinterested by hundreds of people, many of whom are awed by the sheer beauty nature hath wrought through the eons.
There’s no credit line indicating who took the photo. A Google image search shows that one of the earliest versions of the picture appeared in late November on a website called GeologyIn.com under the headline “Opalized Petrified Wood.”
Most of the Reddit posts picked up the theme and use a variation of “Petrified opal tree trunk located in Arizona (about 225 million years old).”
But you’d think a geology website would be a little better at identifying what’s actually in the photo.
According to Sarah Hervé, the interpretive ranger for Petrified Forest National Park in northern Arizona, said the specimen in the photo is not opalized at all.
Instead, it’s closer to agate, which is a form of quartz.
Both opal and agate are silica-based minerals, but agates have a crystalline structure, while opals do not.
Hervé said the photo appears to be from the park, but she couldn’t say for sure where it was taken. It’s possible it came from areas of the park known as the Crystal Forest or the Jasper Forest.
She said it’s typical of “thousands and thousands” of specimens preserved in the park.
As far as the photo goes, “It’s not the most breathtaking one I’ve seen, but it’s a really nice one…They got the light just right,” said said.
“It’s a nice photo, I can see why it caused a stir.”
The petrified forest began to form more than 200 million years ago when its trees were washed over and covered with sediment that prevented them from decaying. The porous wood absorbed silica from volcanic ash and gradually began to crystallize into quartz over the millennia.
Hervé said the park receives 600,000 to 800,000 visitors a year and is “an active science park.”
In addition to the geological marvels, there are a number of ongoing paleontological digs that have discovered an abundance of fossils from the Triassic period, more than 200 million years ago, the age commonly known as the “dawn of the dinosaurs,” she said.
A recent dig uncovered micro-fossils — tiny specimens containing the jawbones and teeth of early reptiles — and paleontologists have also unearthed fossils of phytosaurs, an early ancestor to the crocodile.
John D’Anna is a reporter on the Arizona Republic/azcentral.com storytelling team and has been in the business so long that he’s pretty much a fossil himself. Reach him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @azgreenday.
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