PrologueWhat we are doing, and why we're doing it!
The rim of the crater can be seen from several miles away. It rises from a flat plain like a low ridge. The isolation from surrounding ridges suggest something unusual.
Roughly 50,000 years ago Meteor Crater was blasted from the earth by an asteroid only 150 feet across. The cavity was originally more than a thousand feet across, 700 feet deep with a 300 foot tall rim. The millennia have softened the crater's features, but it remains an impressive artifact.
The origin of the Crater was controversial until quite recently. The first geologists (in the mid 1800s) to examine the hole declared it a volcanic feature. They thought it to be the result of a massive steam explosion. Subsequent examinations in the early 1900s concluded that it was a meteor impact. The meteor theory had a major flaw though. No one could find the meteor! Researchers dug tunnels and drilled holes, but the expected massive nickel-iron rock was nowhere to be found. The lack of a meteor at the bottom of the crater made it difficult for much of the scientific to buy into the whole 'Meteor Crater' idea.
Consensus didn't come to the scientific community until a researcher who had been studying nuclear blast sites came to study the impact site. He found changes in the crystalline structure of the rocks in the crater that could only have come from an intense explosion. Further investigation found microscopic nodules of nickel-iron that were the remnants of the disintegrated meteor. As a result, the hole in the ground in Arizona became Meteor Crater.
The crater served as a training ground for Apollo astronauts. Meteor Crater provided a great substitute for craters on the moon. In memory of the role that the crater played in the our quest for the moon, and to illustrate the immense size of the hole, a wooden cutout of a life sized astronaut with an American flag were placed at the bottom. If you look at the large picture above, you can see light colored spots where tunnels had been dug into the crater's floor. The astronaut cutout is located next to the fence surrounding one of them.