Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Meteor Crater

After we visited the Grand Canyon, we visited Meteor Crater, a ¾ mile wide impact crater in a northern Arizona desert. It is said to be the best-preserved crater in the world.

In this photo, you can see the crater's bumpy rim
on the horizon.
Scientists believe that Meteor Crater was formed 50,000 years ago by a meteorite only 50 meters wide. It blasted such a large crater because it moved at a rate of something between 37 and 60 times the speed of sound. That's very fast. When the meteor hit the ground, it gave off energy equivalent to 10 - 20 million tons of TNT.

The meteorite became extremely hot when it hit. It became so hot that most of it was vaporized, and the rest melted. The ground where it hit was no more fortunate; it vaporized and melted, too. A large quantity of material was thrown away from the site, and rained onto the ground for miles around.

After the impact, fragments of the meteorite that had broken off in mid-air fell out of the sky onto the ground. Due to higher air resistance, they fell at a much lower velocity than the main meteorite, so they survived impact. Some of those fragments are on display in the museum next to the crater.

When we visited Meteor Crater, the wind was very, very strong with nothing out in the flat desert to stop it. At the edge of the crater, the wind was intensified as it blew up and over the rim. The fee was more than we had expected - $16 for adults, $8 for kids. When my mom had visited the crater for the first time many years ago, the fee had only been $1. I didn't want to turn around without viewing the crater, so my mom paid the money and we went in.

The middle observation deck, about ⅔ up the crater wall.
It wasn't as much of a rip-off as we originally thought. Admission to the museum was included, and there was a short movie followed by a presentation. I had planned on going down into the crater, but it was off-limits for reasons of preservation and liability; plus, the sides of the crater were steep, and the wind was blowing very hard. So instead, I satisfied myself with looking through the telescopes on the observation decks.

A mine shaft. You can also see a 6 ft astronaut cutout and flag if you
look closely; those are memorials of NASA's training in the crater.
In the picture to the right, you can see some old equipment and light-colored soil. Here's why it's there: in the early 1900's, Daniel Barringer tried to find the meteorite that had excavated the crater. He thought the meteorite was as large as the crater, and wanted to sell the metal from it. For 27 years he searched by drilling into the ground, but he never found anything worthwhile. The soil, I presume, is from his drilling, and it's probably the same with the equipment.

I find Meteor Crater very impressive; it is the mark left by an event that released an enormous amount of energy all on a small place in an instant, wreaking havoc and destruction. Yet it shows how even the most powerful and significant events can fade and disappear, while everything continues on as if it never happened - the only memory of the disaster being a hole in the ground.

For the next post in the Arizona Road Trip series, go to

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