If you've ever wanted to see the world's most glorious opal, you'll have your chance in September as the South Australian Museum in Adelaide unveils the first public display of the "Virgin Rainbow" (pictured above and below).
Worth more than $1 million, this outstanding geological specimen is distinguished for its rich palette of colors and light-refracting qualities. Like other opals, the "Virgin Rainbow" is composed of silica and water and was formed over millions of years from the opalized fossils of dinosaurs.
This psychedelic gemstone is just one part of the museum's larger "Opals" exhibition, which was organized to celebrate 100 years of opal mining in South Australia. Although this region was once a silica-rich inland sea populated by marine dinosaurs, today it's a hot, arid region that's responsible for 90 percent of the world's opal supply.
Learn more about the origin and formation of opals in the video below (complete with some delightfully tacky CGI dinosaurs):
"It is ironic that in the most harsh of terrains the most beautiful of naturally occurring gems are now found," says Brian Oldman, the director for the South Australia Museum. "This is an exhibition literally millions of years in the making because these opals were formed back when dinosaurs walked the Earth and central Australia was an inland sea."
Although a number of the opals in the museum's collection have been
refined into flawless jewelry pieces, many others are rough gems (like the one below)
that are clearly embedded in rocks or the fossils of plesiosaurs and other
ancient marine organisms.
In addition to see the gems, visitors to the "Opals" exhibit will also learn about the history and culture of mining operations, including an in-depth look at the famous Tatooine-like mining town of Coober Pedy.
This remarkable municipality was built almost entirely underground to give miners and their families respite from the extreme temperatures and frequent dust storms of the area. In the vintage photo on the right, a miner's family eats a meal inside an underground dining area.
"We want to showcase the history and beauty of the opal, as well as the hard work and dedication required of those who choose to mine it," Oldman says. "There are even plans to recreate an underground opal mine inside the museum — complete with dirt brought in from Coober Pedy.
Continue below to see a small selection of the opals featured in the exhibit, which opens Sept. 25 and runs until the following summer.
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