Meteor Crater: Impact site extraordinaire

April 18, 2014
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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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It’s a Small, Small World!

March 10, 2008

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Photo of Earth and its Moon from deep space. NASA Johnson Space Center Image ID. S92-52043.

When you look at this picture taken by the Galileo spacecraft on its way to Jupiter, remember that this is also a photo of you, your family and friends, and all that you know in this life. This photo was taken at a distance of 62 million kilometres from Earth. Earth’s moon is in the foreground of the photo.

Galileo was launched by NASA from the Space Shuttle on October 18, 1989 to explore Jupiter and its moons. It arrived at Jupiter December 7, 1995 just less than six years later. After its mission was complete in 2003, it was intentionally crashed into Jupiter making sure it didn’t contaminate any of the moons. Jupiter’s hostile environment destroyed the probe completely.

The Earth is truly a lifeboat in space. Our blue planet is insignificant against the backdrop of our galaxy and our universe. It contains the only life that we know as of this date. An educated guess based on the number of stars in the universe tells us the mathematical odds of other life are high, but to date we earthlings have no hard-evidence to support this.


Titan: Not on my list of places to visit

October 12, 2007

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Above: NASA photo of Titan

Titan the largest moon of Saturn was one of the places I wanted to visit before I died.  Yesterday after reading an article on CNN and MSNBC about the local climate I am definitely erasing it from my list.

It is the only moon known to have a dense atmosphere, and the only object other than Earth for which clear evidence of stable bodies of surface liquid has been found. Titan was the first known moon of Saturn, discovered in 1655 by the Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens.

The Cassini–Huygens spacecraft reached Saturn on July 1, 2004. Since then it has been mapping the moon. A landing probe was released and descended to the surface. Scientists thought that the surface consisted of liquid methane, but guess what the probe landed in a sea of solid mud.

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Above: Artist’s conception of the landing (NASA photo)

Most days on Titan begin with a cool temperature of nearly 300 degrees below zero. Next comes a steady drizzle of methane. On earth this is an explosive gas, but on Titan is chilled into a liquid. Scientists believe that Titan has weather patterns similar to Earth.

We thought the weather was bad here. By the way when it warms up later in the day, the methane drizzle likely turns into ground mist. I think I will head for more moderate climes when I travel. Titan may be interesting to scientists, but this tourist will take a pass.

On the Net:

Science: http://www.sciencemag.org


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