"We can make many suggestions about the
moon, but we have rather greater difficulty in proving that what we
say is more than just possibilities”. Harold Urey, 'The Nature
of the Lunar Surface'.
For several decades astronomers debated
whether lunar craters were created by bombardment from space or by
volcanism. The issue was decided in favor of the impact theory
shortly after the beginning of the space age, when astronauts walked
on the moon, and Apollo mission close-up images of craters excluded
the volcanic interpretation. In far too many instances, volcanic
vents and lava flows were not evident.
For planetary science this was a turning
point. Within a few years the vision of scarring by impact had set
the direction of the space program, involving billions of dollars,
all spent in confidence that astronomers were asking the right
questions. The general rule was: Where there is a crater, there was
an impact. Craters can therefore be counted to determine the age of
a planet’s or a moon’s surface.
When we visited Venus and Mars, then viewed
the moons of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune in high
resolution, theoretical perception had already frozen into dogma.
And even when we rendezvoused with asteroids and comets—exceedingly
unlikely attractors for cosmic bombardment—most astronomers came to
see the heavily cratered surfaces as a record of impact.
Once the impact hypothesis took hold,
planetary scientists sought to replicate experimentally the unique
patterns of cratering on the moon and elsewhere in the solar system.
On occasion, news releases touted the “successes” of such
experiments, but at a more fundamental and scientific level, where
detailed cratering patterns demanded experimental confirmation, the
experiments proved to be a colossal failure.
High-velocity impact craters do
not match the features of the lunar craters. Nor do they match up
with the craters we observe so abundantly on the surface of Mars, or
on the moons of Jupiter and Saturn. This failure of impact
experiments, however, does not appear to have been the subject of
any news releases.
The anomalies include (to name just a few)—
• remarkable circularity
of all craters of all sizes. Oblique impacts should
form many oval craters;
• lack of
collateral damage expected if the crater circularity were
due to a near-ground explosion like a thermonuclear detonation;
melted crater floors instead of dish shaped excavation
from impact blast. Impacts and high-energy explosions—even atomic
bombs—do not melt enough material to create flat floors.
• steep crater
walls rather than the shallow dish shape expected from a supersonic
• unexpected terracing
of large crater walls, with melted floors of some terraces;
• inordinate number of secondary
craters centered on the rims of larger craters;
• no larger craters cut through
• intricate chains of small
craters along the rims of larger craters;
• numerous crater pairs and
• minimal disturbance where one
crater cuts into another;
• repeated, highly “improbable”
associations of craters with adjoining cleanly cut gouges and
rilles, from which material has simply disappeared;
• rays of “ejecta” tangential to
the crater rim;
• concentric rings.
In considering the many contradictions to a hypothesis now treated as
fact, it soon becomes clear that a psychology of belief
has taken over planetary science. If a crater is clearly not a
volcanic vent, and not a mere “sinkhole”, then of course it is an
impact site! What else could it be? The
natural outcome of this limited perception is to “see what one
As a consequence, planetary scientists have
stopped asking the most important questions. Indeed, they have yet
to consider a fact of overwhelming importance to the future of
planetary science: All of the primary cratering patterns in the
solar system can be produced by electric discharge in the
laboratory. This cannot be said of any other causative agent
explored in the space age.
In their interpretation of craters, therefore, planetary scientists appear to
have fallen victim to a modern myth, another “man in the moon” in
which imagination and theoretical license lead the way, in disregard
for the proper bounds of good science.
NEXT Wednesday: Lunar Craters—a Failed Theory
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