Impact mechanics at Meteor Crater, Arizona

Open-File Report 59-108



Meteor Crator is a bowl-shaped depression encompassed by a rim composed chiefly of debris stacked in layers of different composition. Original bedrock stratigraphy is preserved, inverted, in the debris. The debris rests on older disturbed strata, which are turned up at moderate to steep angles in the wall of the crater and are locally overturned near the contact with the debris. These features of Meteor Crater correspond closely to those of a crater produced by nuclear explosion where depth of burial of the device was about 1/5 the diameter of the resultant crater. Studies of craters formed by detonation of nuclear devices show that structures of the crater rims are sensitive to the depth of explosion scaled to the yield of the device. The structure of Meteor Crater is such as would be produced by a very strong shock originating about at the level of the present crater floor, 400 feet below the original surface. At supersonic to hypersonic velocity an impacting meteorite penetrates the ground by a complex mechanism that includes compression of the target rocks and the meteorite by shock as well as hydrodynamic flow of the compressed material under high pressure and temperature. The depth of penetration of the meteorite, before it loses its integrity as a single body, is a function primarily of the velocity and shape of the meteorite and the densities and equations of state of the meteorite and target. The intensely compressed material then becomes dispersed in a large volume of breccia formed in the expanding shock wave. An impact velocity of about 15 km/sec is consonant with the geology of Meteor Crater in light of the experimental equation of state of iron and inferred compressibility of the target rocks. The kinetic energy of the meteorite is estimated by scaling to have been from 1.4 to 1.7 megatons TNT equivalent.

Additional publication details

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Impact mechanics at Meteor Crater, Arizona
Series title Open-File Report
Series number 59-108
DOI 10.3133/ofr59108
Edition -
Year Published 1959
Language ENGLISH
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey],
Description ii, 55 p. :ill. (some folded), maps (some folded) ;28 cm.