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Credit: Wallace Thornhill

Meteor Crater in Arizona
Michael Armstrong

Is "Meteor Crater" really the showcase for the impact hypothesis that astronomers and geologists have claimed? Evidence for an electrical event is too clear to be ignored.

Readers interested in today’s scientific folklore on meteor impacts have probably already seen pictures of Meteor Crater in Arizona. So we’ve chosen to put up instead an image that captures the power of theoretical assumptions in the sciences. (A good picture of Meteor Crater can be seen here.)

The crater is located 20 miles west of Winslow Arizona. Geologists now confidently say the depression, more than 4,000 feet wide, was created 50,000 years ago when a giant rock plowed into the desert. The Meteor Crater Interactive Learning Center, which includes twenty-four exhibits, bills the crater as the “first proven, best-preserved meteorite crater on Earth”. The movie “Collisions and Impacts" shows twice each hour in an 80-seat wide-screen movie theater. A 1,406 pound meteorite fragment, the largest ever found in the area, is on display.

Of course, for many years scientists claimed that the earth’s surface has no impact craters.  But in 1902 a mining engineer, Daniel Moreau Barringer, noting that small balls of meteoritic iron were imbedded in the ejected rocks of the crater rim, concluded that a meteorite impact caused the crater. Assuming that the meteorite was extremely large, Barringer formed the Standard Iron Company and began securing mining patents.

The mining venture spanned 27 years and cost Barringer’s group more than $600,000 ($10 million in today's money). It produced nothing.

Barringer’s exploration of the site, however, became the foundation for a new theoretical understanding of crater formation by impact. Decades before Eugene Shoemaker’s highly regarded work, Barringer convinced the scientific community that his impact theory of Meteor Crater was correct. For this reason the depression is also called Barringer Crater.

Barringer made two presentations on his hypothesis to the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, the first in 1906, the second in 1909. In addition to the absence of any naturally occurring volcanic rock in the vicinity, he noted an abundance of finely pulveri zed silica. He also observed large quantities of meteoritic iron, in the form of globular "shale balls", scattered around the rim and surrounding plain. The surrounding soil included a random mixture of meteoritic material and ejected rocks.

For today’s electrical theorists, some of the historic investigation is ironic.  In 1908 Barringer’s impact explanation found a vigorous supporter in geologist George P. Merrill, who closely examined a form of quartz glass in the vicinity of the crater.  He concluded that this type of quarts could only be produced by intense heat, “similar to the heat generated by a lightning strike on sand”.

Merrill also pointed to the undisturbed rock beds below the crater that proved “the force which created the crater did not come from below”.

The undisturbed rock beds below the crater contradict the standard opinion on the event that created the large pit. The report by the Meteor Crater Interactive Learning Center states: “The meteorite which made it was composed almost entirely of nickel-iron, suggesting that it may have originated in the interior of a small planet. It was 150 feet across, weighed roughly 300,000 tons, and was traveling at a speed of 28,600 miles per hour (12 kilometers per second) according to the most recent research. The explosion created by its impact was equal to 2.5 megatons of TNT, or about 150 times the force of the atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima”. Certainly that is not the kind of event that would leave the rock beds below the crater “undisturbed”.

Merrill’s findings are the very kind of things that an electric discharge hypothesis would anticipate. An electrical explanation of the crater envisions an approaching bolide entering the strongest region of Earth’s electric field and, under prodigious internal electrical stresses, beginning to discharge explosively and to fragment. Before reaching the surface it is likely to have already blown apart, for the same reason that comets have exploded millions of miles from the Sun and the Tunguska bolide exploded high in the earth’s atmosphere. Another small-scale example of this effect is the unexpectedly energetic explosion created by the Deep Impact projectile when it met up with Comet Tempel 1. Every astronomer who observed the event was astonished.

In the electrical interpretation, fragments of a bolide reaching the surface intact will generally be scattered some distance from the electrical crater or craters caused by the discharge.

The electrical theorists insist that the usual artists’ “splatter” picture of an asteroid or meteor impact is unimaginative and wrong. Not one artistic impression of this sort has ever included a lightning bolt. That’s because the artists’ image is based upon a model scientists use to estimate the effects of a mechanical impact. That model cannot be correct if we live in an electric universe.

One reason for believing that the crater was excavated by an electric discharge is the apparent stratification of the debris distributed by the event. A rotating, crater-producing electric arc will work down from the surface through layers of soil, spraying the material across a wide region.  This could mean that the debris field would be laid down roughly in layers that reversed the strata of the surrounding terrain. So it is interesting that the Meteor Crater website confirms Barringer’s finding that “different types of rocks in the rim and on the surrounding plain appeared to have been deposited in the opposite order from their order in the underlying rock beds”.

There are two other reasons for considering the electrical interpretation.  The immediate surroundings exhibit more than one rille, or sinuous channel, something left entirely unexplained by the impact hypothesis, but a demonstrable effect of electric discharge. And most enigmatic is the presence of fulgurites within the crater. A fulgurite is fused and glassified sand resulting from a lightning strike.  The presence of fulgurites in the crater (see photograph here) is almost never mentioned in the standard literature on Meteor Crater.

It is also worth noting that researchers investigating the “impact” appear to be moving increasingly toward the idea of substantial fragmentation of the body before striking the ground. Jay Melosh of the University of Arizona, the lead researcher in a recent study (reported in the March 10, 2005 issue of Nature), suggests that about half of the 300,000-ton object was lost prior to impact. But again, electrical considerations played no part in the analysis.

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