The History of the Crater

Fifty thousand years ago, a giant fireball streaked across the North American sky. It struck the earth in what is now northern Arizona, exploding with the force of 2 ½ million tons of TNT.

Deposits of meteoritic material at the Barringer Meteorite Crater
Daniel Moreau Barringer’s diagram of meteoritic deposits at the crater, 1909

The story of the Barringer Meteorite Crater is a story about the collisions and impacts that have shaped the Earth and other planets in our solar system. But it is also a story about how we know what we know about craters, meteorites, and the planet we live on.

The crater is named for Daniel Moreau Barringer, a Philadelphia mining engineer. Barringer was one of the first people to claim that the crater was the result of an impact, contradicting the most eminent scientists of his time. Though he never found the fortune in meteoritic iron he was convinced lay beneath the floor of the crater, Barringer’s theory of the crater’s origin was eventually vindicated and accepted by the scientific community.

The story of the crater is the story of scientific discovery, and of the heated debates and complex personal histories that make discovery possible. It is a story about how we have come to understand our world, and it begins 50,000 years ago, high above the Arizona desert.

Next: A Crater is Born >>