Just the same, parts of the Colorado Plateau can be a bit monotonous too. The region between Flagstaff and Holbrook is a case in point. There just isn't much to see as you travel east on Interstate 40 except for the San Francisco Peaks Volcanic Field receding in the distance. The sage and grass-covered plains don't offer much in the way of interesting sights. But there is one really big exception. At Canyon Diablo there are some hills visible south of the highway that seem a bit out of place. They aren't high, but there is nothing like them elsewhere in the area.
Wupatki and Sunset Crater National Monuments. Sometimes disasters happen, and there's simply no way to be warned.
|The Holsinger Meteorite at the Meteor Crater Museum|
The word "disaster" has an interesting etymology. It literally translates as "bad star". Meteors may be called falling stars, but they are made of the leftovers from the formation of the Solar System. On the other hand, the raw materials of meteorites, the iron, nickle and other elements, were forged in the core of gigantic stars, so in a sense it is fair to think of a meteorite as a "bad star".
A large impact can be a horrific disaster. A few years back in 2013, astronomers were monitoring an asteroid chunk that was going to make a close pass by Earth, but that same day a different chunk several yards across hit the atmosphere from another direction. It exploded with the strength of a large atomic bomb, shattering thousands of windows in the Russian town of Chelyabinsk. It was about 65 feet (20 meters across). If such a chunk hit the surface near a city, the effects would be incalculable. A large strike in the oceans has the potential to produce destructive tsunamis. A meteorite several miles wide probably caused the extinction of the dinosaurs and around 60% of all species of life known from 65 million years ago.
In the big picture, Meteor Crater was a localized event. It destroyed life over an area of 100 square miles (260 square kilometers) or more. And yet the scale of the hole is hard to appreciate. Look at the white patch in the bottom of the crater in either of the pictures above. The spots are fenced off, and the owners have placed a life-sized astronaut for scale. Can you see the astronaut below?
The crater is privately held, but the owners have done a nice job of preserving the crater and have constructed an extensive museum and viewing area. They are very accommodating for geology field trips if you contact them in advance. For more information about visiting the crater, check out http://www.meteorcrater.com/.