50,000 years ago, out of the northeastern sky, a pinpoint of light grew rapidly into a brilliant meteor. This body was probably broken from the core of an asteroid during an ancient collision in the main asteroid belt some half billion years ago. Hurling at about 26,000 miles per hour, it was on an intercept course with Earth. In seconds it passed through our atmosphere with almost no loss of velocity or mass.
This massive iron-nickeled meteorite, or dense cluster of meteorites, estimated to have been about 150 feet wide and weighing several hundred thousand tons, struck the rocky plain with a force greater than 20 million tons of TNT.
Moving at hyper-velocity speed, this impact created immensely powerful shock waves in the surrounding atmosphere. In the air, these waves swept across the level plain, devastating all in their path for a radius of several miles. In the ground, as the meteorite penetrated the rocky plain, pressure rose to over 20 million pounds per square inch. Both iron and rock experienced limited vaporization and extensive melting. Past the melted region, an enormous volume of rock underwent complete fragmentation and ejection.
The result of these violent conditions was the excavations of a giant bowl-shaped cavity. In seconds, a crater 700 feet deep and over 4,000 feet across was carved into a once flat and rocky plain. During its formation, over 175 million tons of limestone and sandstone were abruptly thrown out to form a continuous blanket of debris surrounding the crater for over a mile. In some of the shocked meteorites, the intense pressure turned small concentrations of graphite into microscopic sized diamonds.
Photographs of our moon, the other planets and their satellites clearly show that the millions of craters on their surfaces were caused by meteorite, asteroid or comet impacts. Three decades of research in the Earth’s surface show that it too has been the target of numerous large and small collisions.
The Meteor Crater, also called the Barringer Meteorite Crater, represents the most basic type of impact crater in the solar system. Collision and impact processes play a dominant role in the development of our planets, satellites, asteroids and comets. The geological and planetary records are clear; collisions have occurred since the beginning of the solar system and will continue to occur!