Fifty thousand years ago, a meteor ripped through the skies over the land we now call Arizona. Traveling at roughly 40,000 miles an hour (64,000 kilometers an hour)–11 miles per second (18 kilometers per second), it smashed into the surface of the high plateau. Within a few seconds, the resulting massive explosion threw millions of tons of rock over the surrounding area, opening a crater three quarters of a mile across and 700 feet (210 meters) deep. A shock wave of hurricane force winds flashed out in every direction, causing destruction for miles. So reads the sign, The Birth of Meteor Crater, at Meteor Crater Visitor’s Center in northern Arizona.
We visited this site in March 2016, but it is definitely worth another look. After watching the short movie, we spotted this, the Holsinger meteorite, weighing in at 1,406 pounds, and the largest known piece of the 150 foot (45 meter) meteorite that caused this crater.
The meteor, before impact, was estimated to weigh 300,000 tons. Let’s go outside to see the crater. It is really windy here, so again the walking tours on the crater’s rim have been cancelled. This is a big crater.
The impact resulted in a crater 750 feet deep. Due to erosion of the surrounding land, and sediment at the bottom from a former lake, the crater is now 558 feet (170 meters) deep. This crater could hold 200 football fields with 2 million fans watching the games. Wow! There are 3 levels of viewing platforms at the crater and some free telescopes, pointed at various places in the crater. We saw drilling sites, astronaut training sites and fault lines. This is a simulation of what the bottom of the crater is like.
We could not go to the bottom, but this is what it is like. You will like this place. But be prepared for high winds. For years it was believed that this crater was formed by a volcano. Even though there was no lava found here. Scientists did not know how to prove a meteorite landing then. In the early 1900’s Dr. Daniel Barringer, a geologist, believed this crater was formed by a meteorite. From 1903-1905 he actively mined inside the crater. He believed he would find a large part of the meteorite below the surface of the crater and he wanted to mine, find and sell the iron. He continued to believe he would find the meteorite, but he never did. He died in 1929, nearly bankrupt. Later Dr. Eugene Shoemaker, another geologist, visited the crater.
He had been studying the craters after underground atomic bomb tests in Nevada. Dr. Shoemaker recognized the signs of high temperatures and pressure. He discovered the expected material, including shocked quartz (coesite), a form of quartz that has a microscopically unique structure caused by intense pressure and high temperature. Dr. Shoemaker proved Dr. Barringer’s theory of a meteorite impact. These are the same tests still used around the world to identify meteorite craters. And meteorites are shattered and do not survive the impact. The surface of the crater seemed to be very similar to the craters on the moon, so US astronauts trained here, at Arizona’s Meteor Crater before the first lunar landing. The astronauts scheduled for the Apollo missions to the moon, trained here, under the guidance of Dr. Eugene Shoemaker. Among those training here were Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, the first humans to walk on the surface of the moon. Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, in Apollo 11, landed and walked on the moon July 20, 1969. This is the type of capsule the astronauts lived in during their time in space.
A little small for several days, but they did it. We ducks wrote about our first visit to Meteor Crater in March 2016 if you care to read that post also. Just click on March 2016 in the right side of your screen. When driving to Meteor Crater, drive slowly as this is a private working cattle ranch and this is free range country.
We don’t want any person or animal to be injured. Our Meteor Crater is not the largest and not the oldest, but it is considered the best preserved and the first to prove a meteor impact. And some scientific trivia. An object traveling through outer space is an asteroid. When it enters the earth’s atmosphere it becomes a meteor. Upon impact with earth, it is a meteorite. We were confused and this is what we were told at Meteor Crater. For more information visit http://www.MeteorCrater.com When you are near Winslow, Arizona stop to visit Meteor Crater. We enjoyed it. We even enjoyed it twice.