Meteor Crater: Impact site extraordinaire

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Meteor Crater photo Steve Davis

I recently visited one of the most extraordinary places on earth. Meteor Crater or Barringer Meteor Crater is located just west of Winslow, Arizona and east of Flagstaff off Interstate 40.

About 50,000 years ago this area was an unbroken plain. An asteroid streaking at 26,000 miles per hour was on an intercept course with the earth. It passed through the atmosphere with almost no loss of speed or mass. It was about 150 feet across and weighed several hundred thousand tons. Striking the plains it created a crater 700 feet deep and over 4000 feet across, all this in 10 seconds.

Today this is the best preserved and first proven meteorite impact site on earth. Relatively speaking this was a very small object that hit the earth. One can only imagine the result of a much larger asteroid strike. By the way when they are in space these objects are called asteroids, but once they enter the atmosphere or impact they become meteors or meteorites. Shooting stars that you see in the night sky are meteors burning up in our atmosphere, if they pass through the atmosphere and actually strike the earth they become meteorites.

Some comparisons to give you an idea of the size of the crater,

  • If a 60 story building was on the bottom of the crater the top would not extend above the rim.
  • Twenty football games could be played simultaneously on the crater floor, while more than two million fans watched from the sloping sides.
  • The Washington monument placed on the bottom would have its top at your eye level as you stood on the rim.

Native Americans spoke of the crater, but the first written account wasn’t until 1871 from one of General Custer’s scouts named Franklin. It was referred to as Franklin’s Hole for years. It was thought to be just another extinct volcano. In 1886 iron-nickel meteorites were found. These led to the belief that the crater might have been formed by a giant meteorite. It wasn’t until 1902 that a mining engineer named Daniel Barringer visited and was convinced it was the impact site of a meteorite.

The crater is located on private land, but in 1968 Meteor Crater was designated a Natural Landmark by the US Department of the Interior.

The visitor centre has fascinating exhibits concerning asteroid strikes all over the world including on-going attempts at early detection of those which may strike the earth. There is an film illustrating the strike of this particular asteroid. The largest piece recovered from the meteor is also on display. It’s about 4 feet in length and consists of iron. Most of the meteor disintegrated upon impact.

On-site is the Discovery Center, Gift & Rock Shop, rest rooms and a Subway outlet. At the intersection of I-40 and access road (exit 233)there is an RV park, country store and gas station. It is open year round including the RV park, but check the website for seasonal hours.

Admission charges when I visited in April 2014 were,

Adult: $16
Senior: $15 (age over 60)
Junior: $8 (ages 6 – 17)
5 & under Free

My son and I were in awe and fascinated by this natural attraction. It gave me lots to think about, like what happens if a huge asteroid or comet hits the earth. The one that streaked through Russian skies last year causing many injuries and extensive damage was not detected beforehand. That’s scary.

Contacts:

Meteor Crater Enterprises

928-289-2362

928-289-4002 RV Park

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MeteorCraterEnterprises

Email: info@meteorcrater.com

 

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