picture of the day
Popigai Crater. Credit: Ronald W. Hayes Landsat/PASSC
Jan 07, 2008
Popigai Crater, Siberia
The infamous Tunguska crater is not the only site in Siberia
where tremendous high-energy events have taken place.
Many Picture of
articles have addressed the so-called "impact craters"
that pepper our planet like the wounds from a hot poker.
Bizarre landforms and anomalous blast features have
implied that other factors could influence their formation.
Kebira Crater, Canada's
Manicouagan Impact Structure and the
Wilkes Land Crater in Antarctica point to forces beyond
the strictly mechanical (heat, shock and gravity), providing
a backdrop for theories of electric blast effects. In the
Russian wilderness, 120 kilometers from the Arctic Ocean, is
a crater that rivals the largest ever discovered. Popigai is
over 100 kilometers in diameter and provides evidence that
it could have been excavated in an instant by a plasma
discharge of planetary proportions. Popigai and Manicouagan
are both considered to be the fourth largest craters on
Earth. Only Vredefort (300 kilometers), Sudbury (250
kilometers) and Chicxulub (180 kilometers) are larger.
and geological unconformities are striking. The bedrock
within the site was forced downward and outward, shattering
into megaton blocks that were subsequently thrust away and
piled up along the
crater rim. Some of the largest fragments were thrown
over 70 kilometers from the crater. The rim material was
sliced away exposing a cross section of the contorted
strata with embedded giant stone blocks.
were fused into a glass-like compound that covers the floor
of the crater and appears to have splashed up and over the
crater rim. The molten glass inundated several hundred
square kilometers of the surrounding terrain with a thick
layer capping the chaotic breccias. Meltrock over 600 meters
deep has been found mixed with
suevite, a type of stone thought to be produced when
large bolides strike the Earth.
Suevite is found
in many other locations around the world and supposedly
indicates a thermal stress great enough to compact and fuse
the soil and rock into a conglomerate containing "shocked"
crystals. The micro-fractures are the result of overpressure
through the crystalline matrix. Samples taken from the
Popigai crater all contain shocked grains and tiny craters,
evincing the extreme conditions that resulted in their
One of the more
interesting features of Popigai is that
diamonds are found in and around the crater environs.
The pressure waves released by whatever phenomenon caused
the crater are thought to have compressed the graphite
within the gneiss formations and instantaneously transformed
it into diamond. The blast that created the precious gems
also threw them over 150 kilometers to the east, where they
can be found loose in the soils and the rivers. Their value
is great enough that it is very difficult to explore the
region because the Russian government has built diamond
mines and processing centers nearby.
primarily found in deep chimneys called "Kimberlite pipes"
that reach down into the Earth for several kilometers. They
received that name from the
Kimberly region of South Africa, where diamond mining
was first instituted on a large scale. Kimberlite can be
found in Canada and India, as well. In fact, the Hope
Diamond, probably the most famous gemstone ever discovered,
was from an Indian Kimberlite pipe. Popigai's vicinity is
mysterious aspect to diamond formation is the speed
necessary for them to crystallize before they assume their
layered phase and become simple graphite. Conventional
theories suggest that diamonds begin their journey over 250
kilometers below the surface in the incredible heat of
subterranean pressure cookers.
Recent analysis shows that the diamonds must travel from
the upper mantle at over 180-kilometers-per-hour in order to
are theorized to be the offspring of hypervelocity bolide
impacts, and they are, indeed, associated with craters and
other non-uniform geological structures. As we have
pointed-out in the past, however, it is not large rocks
from space that generate these anomalies, it is lightning
bolts with trillion-joule heat that most likely shaped the
topography we see.
from the Popigai event have been found everywhere on Earth,
especially on the bottom of the Indian Ocean. Small
glassified spheres are one hallmark of plasma discharges
and have been compared with those discovered on Mars. Just
like their distribution on Earth, the "blueberries"
on Mars cover thousands of square kilometers and exist in
Along with the
diamonds, near-vertical crater walls, the flat floor, the
mega-breccias, the giant stones sliced in half as if by a
laser and the glassified overburden, there is the problem of
age. Despite being dated at over 250-million years, Popigai
retains a freshly cut appearance.
Perhaps a better
proposal is that a titanic "thunderbolt of the gods"
produced both the diamond-bearing Kimberlite and the
morphology of large craters.
By Stephen Smith
Please visit our new "Thunderblog" page
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