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     Meteor Crater is a meteorite impact crater that is located approximately 43 miles east of Flagstaff, and is generally considered as the best preserved meteor impact site on earth, both for its size and the lack of vegetation that would otherwise mask the geologic features.  Located at an elevation of about 5,700 feet above sea level, Meteor Crater is both grand and imposing when viewed from the rim;  approximately 4,000 feet in diameter, 570 feet deep, and a surrounding rim that rises about 150 feet above the surrounding landscape.  The rim consists of layers of rock that were literally peeled up and flipped upside down from the force of the impact, creating the formation we see today.

     It is generally accepted that Meteor Crater was created approximately 40,000 to 50,000 years ago during the Pleistocene.  The Colorado Plateau at that time was much cooler and wetter than it is now, and at the time of the impact there was open grasslands and woodlands populated by wooly mammoths, giant ground sloths, and camels, but most likely there were no humans living in the area.  The meteorite which formed the crater was composed mainly of nickel and iron, was about 54 yards in diameter, and very dense with an estimated mass of 300,000 metric tons.  Travelling at an estimated 28,000 mph with so much mass and taking into account the sheer velocity, the resulting impact must have

 
         
 

been extraordinary as most of the meteorite was vaporized in an explosion with an energy equivalent of 20 million tons of TNT.

     Meteor Crater was formerly known as Canyon Diablo Crater, and recovered fragments of the meteorite are still officially labeled as the Canyon Diablo Meteorite.  In 1891, Grove Karl Gilbert, the chief geologist for the US Geological Survey, first studied the crater and theorized that it was formed by a volcanic steam explosion, based largely on the lack of meteorite fragments and his failure to find a magnetic anomaly in the base of the crater where he would expect to locate a mass of buried meteorite material.  The small meteorite fragments that were recovered were considered coincidental by him rather than as the cause of the formation.  Ironically enough, it was Gilbert who was one of the first to propose that the craters on the Moon were caused by impacts rather than volcanism.

     Meteor Crater is also known in scientific circles as Barringer Crater, in honor of the mining engineer and entrepreneur Daniel M. Barringer who first put forward that theory that the formation was a meteorite impact crater.  Barringer had the plan to mine what he believed would be a substantial deposit of iron under the floor of the crater, worth an estimated $1 billion in 1903.  As the dynamics of impact events were not understood at the time, Barringer was unaware that most of the meteorite had vaporized on contact, and in the end he was never able to find the iron deposits he expected.  The site is not protected as a National Monument, but is instead privately owned by the Barringer family as the Barringer Crater Company.

     Today, Meteor Crater is a very popular attraction in Northern Arizona, and visited every year by tourists from around the world.  There is a visitor's center and museum on the north rim with interactive exhibits, a theatre, and a gift shop, and an observation trail that follows the rim around the crater with guided tours offered daily.

 

 
         
 

 
         
   
   

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