It was a Bad Day to be in Arizona – Meteorite-ly Speaking

Imagine a grass covered expanse with creatures both savage and exotic. Its 49,000 years ago and the North American Continent is in a brief interglacial period of warmth. This warmth has created a lush environment for Woolly Mammoths and other now extinct species. On an otherwise unremarkable day a bright light appears in the sky. Seconds later a fireball and explosion carve a hole in the ground three-quarters of a mile across and hundreds of feet deep.

Today we call the spot of this horrific event Meteor Crater. It is a peaceful enjoyable place to visit. But, at the moment the small iron asteroid hit the Earth it was a deadly place to be. The temperature rose instantly to thousands of degrees and like an atomic bomb blast everything for miles was vaporized. The asteroid tore through over a thousand feet of rock, melting and liquefying itself as it moved downward. Its tremendous kinetic energy converted to thermal energy in a flash. Hundreds of millions of tons of rock are thrown out and flipped over to form the crater and its raised rim.

Today Meteor Crater in Central Arizona is the best preserved of the impact craters on the Earth. Scattered around it have been found fragments of the asteroid that survived the formation of the crater. Called Canyon Diablo meteorites they are great examples of the coarse octahedrite class of iron meteorites. A few dozen tons of Canyon Diablos have been recovered over the last hundred and fifty years. A small amount compared to the one hundred to two hundred thousand tons that actually hit the ground. The rest was vaporized into tiny metal droplets that still can be found in the soil around the crater.