The University of Arizona

The Canyon Diablo impact event: Projectile motion through the atmosphere



Meteor Crater is one of the first impact structures systematically studied on Earth. Its location in arid northern Arizona has been ideal for the preservation of the structure and the surviving meteoric material. The recovery of a large amount of meteoritic material in and around the crater has allowed a rough reconstruction of the impact event: an iron object 50 m in diameter impacted the Earths surface after breaking up in the atmosphere. The details of the disruption, however, are still debated. The final crater morphology (deep, bowl-shaped crater) rules out the formation of the crater by an open or dispersed swarm of fragments, in which the ratio of swarm radius to initial projectile radius Cd is larger than 3 (the final crater results from the sum of the craters formed by individual fragments). On the other hand, the lack of significant impact melt in the crater has been used to suggest that the impactor was slowed down to 12 km/s by the atmosphere, implying significant fragmentation and fragments separation up to 4 initial radii. This paper focuses on the problem of entry and motion through the atmosphere for a possible Canyon Diablo impactor as a first but necessary step for constraining the initial conditions of the impact event which created Meteor Crater. After evaluating typical models used to investigate meteoroid disruption, such as the pancake and separated fragment models, we have carried out a series of hydrodynamic simulations using the 3D code SOVA to model the impactor flight through the atmosphere, both as a continuum object and a disrupted swarm. Our results indicate that the most probable pre-atmospheric mass of the Meteor Crater projectile was in the range of 4x10^8 to 1.2x10^9 kg (equivalent to a sphere 4666 m in diameter). During the entry process the projectile lost probably 30% to 70% of its mass, mainly because of mechanical ablation and gross fragmentation. Even in the case of a tight swarm of particles (Cd <3), small fragments can separate from the crater-forming swarm and land on the plains (tens of km away from the crater) as individual meteorites. Starting from an impactor pre-atmospheric velocity of ~18 km/s, which represents an average value for Earth-crossing asteroids, we find that after disruption, the most probable impact velocity at the Earths surface for a tight swarm is around 15 km/s or higher. A highly dispersed swarm would result in a much stronger deceleration of the fragments but would produce a final crater much shallower than observed at Meteor Crater.


Asteroid impact;Barringer Impact Crater;Arizona;USA;Impact cratering;Impact modeling

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