Disaster for Barringer

While the scientific debate continued, the mining venture at the crater was not going well.

Early attempts at drilling for the meteorite had failed when the drill encountered quicksand beneath the crater floor. Renewed drilling attempts under the south rim, conducted at enormous expense, also proved fruitless. A discouraged Tilghman had backed out of the venture in 1910.

An Outside Consultant

In 1928, $200,000 was raised for a final assault on the meteorite. By this time Barringer’s estimate of its size had risen to ten million tons, and he was envisioning a profit of $250,000,000 on a $500,000 investment. But the directors of the Standard Iron Company were growing nervous. When the new mine shaft hit water in such great quantities that it could not be pumped out, they consulted the astronomer F. R. Moulton for his opinion on the size of the meteorite.

Moulton concluded that the meteorite weighed only 300,000 tons - and might have vaporized completely on impact.

Moulton’s answer was devastating. Based on the amount of energy produced by an impact at the enormous speed of a meteorite arriving from space, he concluded that an object big enough to create the crater would probably weigh only 300,000 tons. That was only 3% of the amount claimed by Barringer, and too small to justify any further drilling. In addition, Moulton argued that the energy of the impact would have resulted in the total vaporization of the meteorite itself.

Mining operations at the crater
Part of the mining operation on the floor of the crater

The End of the Operation

Work was halted at the crater. In a flurry of correspondence over the next three months, Moulton’s conclusions were debated by Barringer, his directors, and a number of prominent scientists. Gradually it became clear that Moulton’s arguments were persuasive. On November 23, 1929, Moulton’s second and more thorough analysis arrived; it buttressed the author’s original conclusions with 127 pages of reasoning and mathematical analysis. By November 30, Barringer was dead of a massive heart attack.

He had lost nearly all of his own fortune, along with hundreds of thousands entrusted to him by his investors. But his children saw his ideas vindicated. The general public knows his discovery as “Meteor Crater”; its proper scientific name, as determined by the Meteoritical Society, is the Barringer Meteorite Crater.

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