Barringer Meteorite Crater, Impact Theory and Meteor Craters


the Barringer Crater Company

As has been the case since D. Moreau Barringer secured the ownership of the Barringer Meteorite Crater in 1903, the Barringer Crater Company continues to promote its founder's abiding interest in the events surrounding the creation of the Crater. Barringer's descendants, now in their fourth generation, own and operate the company under the same guiding principles which he so strongly advocated. In keeping with his wishes, the company operates as a privately held business, with each of eight branches of his family represented on the Board of Directors. Go To the Barringer Site The fundamental purpose of the company continues to be the preservation of the Crater as a memorial to the pioneering scientific work of its founder. Recognizing that the Crater is a unique natural land-mark of great scientific importance, strong public interest, and significant educational value, it is the company's long-held policy to maintain the property in as nearly a natural state as possible and to ensure appropriate and controlled access to it by the general public. The company also is committed to making the Crater available to the scientific community for ongoing research and field study. Go To the Barringer Site In addition to maintaining the Crater itself, the Barringer Crater Company has a strong interest in encouraging and supporting scientific exploration and research within the field of meteoritics, particularly in the area of impact phenomena. Each year the company provides modest research grants to scientists around the world to assist them in conducting essential field work. In addition, the company helps sponsor a limited number of highly regarded doctoral students in attending important international scientific meetings and seminars. The company is advised by several internationally acclaimed scientists, and a number of its directors are actively involved in the Meteoritical Society, a scientific association interested in the study of asteroids, comets, meteors and the solar system. In 1982, the company established an endowed award program within the Meteoritical Society, known as the Barringer Medal, to recognize outstanding scientific achievement in the field of impact cratering. Go To the Barringer Site The Barringer Crater Company has an ongoing interest in promoting scientific education about the Crater and its role in the evolution of the solar system. The company believes that through its stewardship of the Crater, both the general public and the scientific community will continue to benefit from the educational and scientific value of this unique and fascinating natural phenomenon. Go To the Barringer Site Hand Built for maximum Impact by The Cyrus Company. 1998.

"Textbooks are concerned with presenting the facts of the case (whatever the case may be) as if there can be no disputing them, as if they are fixed and immutable. And still worse, there is usually no clue given as to who claimed these are the facts of the case, or how "it" discovered these facts (there being no he or she, I or we). There is no sense of the frailty or ambiguity of human judgment, no hint of the possibilities of error. Knowledge is presented as a commodity to be acquired, never as a human struggle to understand, to overcome falsity, to stumble toward the truth." - Neil Postman, The End of Education Go To the Barringer Site The story of the Barringer Meteorite Crater is a story of scientific adventure and discovery, of a stubborn outsider who stood up against the entire weight of scientific opinion of his time, and was ultimately proven right. In the course of his twenty-seven year battle, Daniel Moreau Barringer saw his theory about the impact origin of his crater vindicated, but failed to discover the fortune in meteoritic iron which he was convinced lay at the bottom. Ultimately, the crater may have contributed to his death. His story provides a fascinating glimpse into the nature of discovery, and the influence of pride, personality, the profit motive, intuitive leaps and rigorous logic on the progress of science. Go To the Barringer Site The story begins with a scientific patriarch. Grove Karl Gilbert, the first person to conduct a full scientific survey of the mysterious crater in the Arizona desert, was the most renowned geologist of his generation, and has been described as "perhaps the closest equivalent to a saint that American science has yet produced." (Hoyt, p.37) He was tolerant, generous, and fair-minded, with an intense dislike of controversy of any kind. As chief geologist of the U.S. Geological Survey, his prestige was so great that none of his colleagues or successors was willing to publicly question his conclusions - even when it became apparent that some of those conclusions had been wrong. Go To the Barringer Site In 1891, Gilbert became interested in reports of a large collection of nickel-iron meteorites found in the neighborhood of a gigantic circular crater in the Arizona desert. Since he had already speculated on the possible consequences of a large meteorite striking the earth, he decided to visit the crater and try to determine whether it had been the result of such an impact. Go To the Barringer Site In keeping with his careful, methodical approach to science, Gilbert considered two alternative hypotheses for the formation of the crater: first, that it had been formed by a meteorite; and second, that it was the result of a massive explosion of steam, produced by volcanic heat at a great distance below the surface. The idea that it might be an actual volcanic crater was ruled out by the absence of any volcanic rocks at the site. Go To the Barringer Site In his expedition to the crater (then called Coon Butte or Coon Mountain) in October of 1891, he devised what he considered to be two "crucial tests" of the impact hypothesis. First, he reasoned that if the crater had been produced by an explosion, the material ejected from it would be equal in volume to the crater's hollow. If it had been produced by a meteorite, on the other hand, the meteorite would still be there. Lacking our modern understanding of the mechanics of impact at planetary speeds, Gilbert assumed that the size of the meteorite would be similar to the size of the crater, and that it would fill a substantial portion of the hollow. The volume of the hollow would thus be smaller than that of the ejected material on the rim. Go To the Barringer Site The second test involved the supposed magnetic effect of a large volume of buried iron. If a mass of iron large enough to produce the crater was still present below the surface, its attraction would affect the direction of a compass needle, creating local anomalies. Go To the Barringer Site Both tests turned up negative. By Gilbert's calculations, the volume of material in the crater rim just equalled the volume removed from the hole. A variety of experiments with magnets produced no indication of a large mass of buried iron. The idea of a volcanic steam explosion was thus, in Gilbert's view, the "only surviving hypothesis." The presence of meteorites in the vicinity of the crater was simply a coincidence. Go To the Barringer Site Gilbert used his investigation of the crater, and his own abandonment of the impact hypothesis, in a series of 1895 lectures illustrating the application of the dispassionate scientific approach. It was left to an entirely different personality to demonstrate the limitations of that approach.


Daniel Moreau Barringer, a Philadelphia mining engineer, was a man of immense vigor and intelligence, a charismatic, impatient and hot-tempered individual who enjoyed quoting his wife's description of him as "half gentleman and half savage". As is immediately apparent from his correspondence, he did not suffer fools gladly. After graduating from Princeton University in 1879, at the age of 19, he went on to become president of his class at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, from which he graduated in 1882, receiving his A.M. from Princeton in the same year. But the practice of law bored him. His real interests were in the outdoor life and in big-game hunting in the West, where Theodore Roosevelt and the author Owen Wister were his hunting companions. Go To the Barringer Site In search of an occupation which would allow him to pursue these interests, he enrolled in a geology course at Harvard, but dropped it when the instructor asked him a question he considered "childish". He later studied mineralogy at the University of Virginia, while writing a book on The Laws of Mines and Mining in the United States, which remained for many years the authoritative work on the subject. By 1902 his successful mining ventures, in particular the discovery of the Commonwealth Silver Mine in Pearce, Arizona, had left him the owner of a considerable fortune. Go To the Barringer Site In a casual conversation with his friend Samuel J. Holsinger in 1902, Barringer became aware of the existence of the crater and the meteoritic irons associated with it, and of the local theory that it had been created by an iron body falling out of space. As Holsinger later recalled the incident, he "dropped his cigar", and exclaimed, "That must be impossible! If true why have I not heard of this remarkable phenomenon before?" Like Gilbert, Barringer reasoned that if the crater had been formed by such an impact, an enormous mass of meteoritic iron would still lie buried within it. Go To the Barringer Site A few months later, Holsinger confirmed by letter that small balls of meteoritic iron were randomly mixed with the ejected rocks of the crater rim. This random mixture of rock and iron proved to Barringer that the crater had been created simultaneously with the arrival of the meteorites; if one had preceded the other, the rock and the iron would be found in separate layers. He "no longer doubted, but...knew as well as I know today that the crater...must be due to the impact of a body colliding with our earth." (Barringer to Thomson, 2/7/1912; quoted in Abrahams, p. 40) Without ever having seen the crater, he enlisted his friend, Philadelphia mathematician and physicist Benjamin Chew Tilghman, in the formation of the Standard Iron Company, and began the process of securing mining patents for the crater and the land around it. Go To the Barringer Site Between 1903 and 1905, Barringer and Tilghman conducted extensive exploration and drilling operations at the crater. They obtained a wealth of new geological information, much of which indicated that the rocks surrounding the crater had been subjected to a sudden and violent shock. Attempts to locate the meteorite, however, were fruitless. Because of the round shape of the crater, Barringer and Tilghman assumed that the meteorite had struck from directly above, and therefore lay directly under the center. Two mine shafts sunk in the center ended in quicksand at 180 feet down, and a series of exploratory drill holes produced nothing.

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United States 14851


The Barringer Crater Company
Decatur GA
United States 30031

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