Meteorite enters Arizona… twice

By Phil Plait | March 24, 2009 3:00 pm

BABloggee Laurie T. tipped me about a chunk of Canyon Diablo meteorite — a piece of the iron asteroid that fell in the Arizona desert about 50,000 years ago — that was once lost, and then found, and then returned to its second home: Meteor Crater Interactive Learning Center at the rim of the impact crater, a few kilometers outside of Winslow, Arizona.

And yeah, "second home". If you spent 4.5 billion years in space, and only 0.001% of that time on Earth, I think you still qualify as "just visiting", let alone hanging at your summer house.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff

Comments (22)

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  1. I have been to Meteor Crater. It is truly an amazing place. It makes you realise just how small we humans really are.

  2. Ben

    That time spent in space is amazing, but how do they determine how long a meteorite has been in space for?

  3. Davidlpf

    I hope it takes it easy.

  4. Arizona, where even meteorites go to retire!

    Do I smell a new state slogan?

  5. Rob

    Yeah Meteor Crater is amazing.
    I was stunned when I red:
    “The hole is 550 feet deep, deep enough so that the Washington Monument could stand up in it. That is as high as a 60 story building. And it is more than 4,000 feet across, big enough to hold 20 football fields at its base. The rim measures 2.4 miles in circumference so that, if seats were placed on the sloping sides, more than two million spectators could watch those 20 simultaneous football games.”

  6. T.E.L.


    The time in space can be gauged by sampling tiny cosmic ray tracks in the body of the meteorite. More tracks = more time spent out in open space.


    Larian LeQuella:

    Arizona, where even meteorites go to retire!

    Do I smell a new state slogan?

    How about: Arizona — The only place to meteorite partner!

  8. Star Girl

    I just visited Meteor Crater last week and saw (and touched) the meteorite. When you take the walking tour part way around the rim, you realize how tremendous the impact was.

  9. bjn

    Okay, “Canyon Diablo” threw me until Wikipedia cleared it up (or disambiguated it). Canyon Diablo Crater is the old name for the Barringer Crater.

    “The meteorite itself was mostly vaporized. Relatively large chunks of nickel-iron fragments, ranging from gravel size to blocks weighing up to 640 kg (1,400 lb), have been recovered from the debris field surrounding the crater. Several thousand tons of tiny nickel-iron droplets, the size of sand grains, fell in and around the crater after condensing from the cloud of metallic vapour produced by the impact. Very little of the meteorite remained within the pit that it had excavated.”

    According the the Wikipedia article, the gradualist geology scientists were skeptical of Daniel Barringer’s 1903 theory that the crater was produced by a large nickel-iron metorite. It wasn’t until Eugene Shoemaker demonstrated shocked quartz that geologists finally gave up on the volcanic theory for the crater.

    “The meteorite that struck the crater is officially called the Canyon Diablo Meteorite and all fragments of the meteorite that are officially labeled bear the Canyon Diablo name. The name comes from Canyon Diablo, Arizona which was the closest community to the crater when scientists began investigating in the late 1800s. At the time scientists were not sure if the crater was in fact a meteor crater and many of the fragments were found outside of the crater. The town was 12 miles (19 km) northwest of crater and now is a ghost town. The town was the edge of Canyon Diablo (canyon) which at it closest point is about three miles (5 km) west of the crater.”


  10. I was once at Meteor Crater. It is a great place. The “highlight” for me was the group of fundamentalist kids that were being led on a field trip by their fundie father/teacher/cult leader. I got to hear him tell the kids all about how the place was full of propaganda (what with the pictures of dinosaurs and no cavemen in the same frame, etc…) Every question the kids asked of him, he had some scrambled-brain answer. According to him the crater itself was the result of some sort of flood or something (anyone know anything about that?). Maybe it rained really hard in just that one spot. So hard that it chipped away at the rock and soil and created a gigantic round hole in the ground…

    On the same trip, as I stood, agog, at the rim of the Grand Canyon, I overhead man 1 say to man 2:

    “We drove all the way from LA to see this big ditch!?”

  11. “jeffC I was once at Meteor Crater. It is a great place…”

    Funny, when I was at Meteor Crater, I asked one of the tour guides/educators if they get many creationists showing up trying to dispel the science. He rolled his eyes and said “too many.” We had a nice chat after that.

  12. T.E.L.

    My brother & I visited the crater in summer of 1981. I understand now that unescorted hiking about the rim isn’t allowed; but we didn’t know any better and proceeded on just such an expedition, intending to go the whole way round. We made it around perhaps 1/4 the perimeter when we realized how very long it was taking and that, at our rate, we probably wouldn’t make it the whole way before the visitors center closed. So we hurriedly backtracked.

    So: I don’t know if they just didn’t care back then or never happened to see us. It was a terrific adventure, what there was of it; but in retrospect I see that we could’ve gotten into serious trouble, owing to all the rough terrain and possibly rattlesnakes, with no one even aware of our presence.

    But anyway, that’s one big bowl. There were boulders the size of buses just strewn about.

  13. IVAN3MAN

    Creationist(s) = JAMF(s).

  14. LukeL

    Oh Diablo Canyon 1 why can’t you be like Diablo Canyon 2

  15. MadScientist

    @T.E.L.: Arizona’s always been a bit of a rough and tumble place. You can pretty much do anything you like, but if you get yourself killed that’s your problem. Near where I lived there were old mineshafts everywhere and kids would often go into them (pretty stupid thing to do, even if you have the right equipment). Every now and then there would be a subsidence event and you’d see another hole in the ground where a shaft ran beneath.

    The rattlers aren’t really much of a threat; most that I’ve encountered will either lie still minding their own business or will slither away. You have to be pretty unlucky to surprise one, step on it, and manage to get bitten. Like most snakes, they’re not putting in an effort to chase and bite anyone. The younger rattlers even have that rattle – it’s a great snake; just about the only one that can grab your attention when it’s frightened. They lose their rattles as they moult though, so the older rattlers don’t rattle much, if at all.

  16. Grump

    @MadScientist: Hey, I never thought of it that way! A rattler is probably the least dangerous of the highly-venomous snakes. After all, it gives you a clear warning that you’re about to do something stupid (unless, like you say, you just have stupendously bad luck.)

    And if you insist on approaching it despite being warned, I guess you’re just the sort of person who also presses big red buttons marked “Do Not Push!”. :)

    One of the things I love about astronomy is that the parameters are so far outside normal human experience. For example, we consider molten metal to be “very hot”, but here we’re talking about vapourised metal. The speeds and energies and depth of crater and all those numbers are just jaw-dropping.

    And this was a comparatively tiny meteorite!

  17. Wayne

    I was there last summer with a group of students on our way to Lowell for an astronomy trip. A guy heard me discussing the crater age with my students and started asking how we knew the age. He was reasonable at first, so I was already engaged with him when he brought up ocean salinity and my YEC alarm went off. After a while things got pretty heated, in fact at one point an employee came and told us to keep it down. I felt bad about that and went to apologize later, but they said not to worry it happens to them all the time. I do think it was a good learning experience for my students, we had a very good discussion about faith vs evidence on the way to Flagstaff. I was pleased that my students were more or less in agreement with my arguments, even though we are from a church-affiliated college.

  18. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    Kudos for Mr Andes, returning stolen property with public value.

    You have to be pretty unlucky to surprise one, step on it, and manage to get bitten.

    Heh! The first part happened to me.

    Here in Sweden we have only one poisonous snake, weakly so – Vipera berus. (We also have two harmless Colubridae.) The only time I come up close on mishap I was running, and managed to step on it at the same time I first observed it; most color variants are characteristically patterned so instantly recognizable.

    Since I was taking a running shortcut over a farmers field during an orienteering game, I guess the possibly much surprised snake choose to hide instead of trying to slither away or threat. Or perhaps it was already dead, I didn’t stop to check on it.

    [The snake is mostly dangerous for toddlers or if you get an allergic shock – bees and hornets takes more lives. But better safe than sorry.]

  19. A few years ago I bought a piece of the Canyon Diablo Meteorite about 400 grams of slightly rusty iron. Kinda neat having something that’s that old and from elsewhere in the universe.

    Large as the crater is in Arizona, think a bit about the one recently located in eastern Antarctica–300 miles across….

    Planetary bodies are not safe places in the long run.

    We have little time before the coasts flood. If the melt occurs in a linear fashion (it isn’t) we have 21 years until the sea level rises 5 meters. If things continue on the current path, we have 7 years–and 4 meters o that rise will happen in the last few months.

    A small nuclear war might stop it…removing Panama would probably stabilize our climate–our current tipsy climate began 3 million years ago when the Panama isthmus rose from the sea and separated the oceans. Reconnecting them ought to reverse that instability.

    What really irks me is the “resource crises” we keep having. All assume that the only resources we can get are those we know about in and on the top 8-10 miles of the Earth’s crust. That is such an insignificant quantity of resources compared even with just the Earth-Luna twin planetary surf it isn’t funny.

    Also interesting that last year the known recoverable oil reserve in North Dakota were increased by 270 billion barrels–about the same as the Saudi Arabian known recoverable reserves…and there are places we haven’t even looked for oil yet.

    But it would be best for the species if we moved out of the neighborhood before something gets us all….

    Oh well, even the 60 meter sea level rise won’t kill off our species–or the cockroaches either. We can expect that the rise will only be on the close order of 20 meters in the next 40 years. Glad I don’t live on the coast….

  20. YouRang

    Ok. I give. How deep is the surface that they examined for cosmic ray tracks? Surely the stuff more than a little way in has very little left in the way of cosmic rays. And so how do they know from which part of the meteor a given chunk came so that they can date it?

  21. Carysta

    Wow, that’s pretty cool :) I’d love to come see the Canyon Diablo crater. I’m from Sudbury, Ontario, and one of the school of thought that believes we too are a meteor crater. Granted our event was a lot further in the past (long enough for tectonic plate activity to have squished us into a roughly oval shape); and there’s still some that think we were a volcanic crater. Either way the concept of craters has always fascinated me and I’d love to see a (geologically speaking) more recent one :)


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