Impact Craters


It wasn't until the 1980s that humanity finally began to understand the greatest extinction events in history - wiping out nearly all life on Earth - five times in its history.  We are currently living through the sixth mass extinction event.

3 of the 5 mass extinctions are thought to have been exacerbated or caused by asteroid impacts.

This lab is about understanding how asteroid impacts affect the planet Earth.

Part 1:  Impact or Volcano?

It is sometimes difficult to tell the difference between a crater caused by a volcano (also called a caldera) and a crater caused by an impactor from space.

One such debate occurred about the origin of one of the most well preserved craters on Earth, located North of Phoenix, Arizona, known as Meteor Crater.

It is sometimes called Barringer Crater, after Daniel Barringer, the man who strongly pushed its origin as an impactor, and whose family still owns the land the crater is on.  He hoped to mine rare minerals from its center.  Alas, he discovered that the original impactor was mostly blown to smitherines. 

The wikipedia entry on Impacts has a wealth of information:


Part 2:  Impact Simulations

To better understand what would happen when an asteroid impacts the Earth, the good folks at Purdue created a simulation where you can adjust the parameters and see what would happen!