Archive for July 22nd, 2008


Impact Crater or Caldera: Which is Cooler?

It’s an age-old question: is a meteor impact cooler than a volcano? Scientific geniuses such as Albert Einstein, Robert Oppenheimer, and Stephen J. Gould spent their entire lives trying to answer the question, to no avail. They all cried in their offices, hoping the world would just forget them. It has. We at Falling Rock have no discernible scientific credentials, but we will attempt to crack the hardest nut of them all.

We must first acknowledge that both types of craters are undeniably cool. A meteor crater screams through space, only to be stopped by a larger body, such as the Earth. A volcano explodes, rains death and destruction upon the surrounding countryside, and then goes quiet, leaving a gaping hole where the molten lava used to be. For the most part, when you approach a crater you cannot see it. You look ahead: a slight rise in the ground that could be a mountain ridge. Not until you stand on the lip of the crater can you feel the full majesty hit you full in the face. You gasp at yet another example of nature’s might.

Falling Rock will rank the two formations, impact crater and caldera, but you must realize craters of any type are inherently cooler than most things. No mortal achievement can compare to the glory of a giant hole in the ground, and all that it represents.

Impact Crater

meteor crater

 

Here at Falling Rock we have a special attachment to the Meteor Crater outside Flagstaff, Arizona. The Southwest holds the majority of the country’s stunning geological features (followed closely by the Pacific Northwest) and the Meteor Crater is one of the most mysterious. Located on a flat section of the desert in the foothills of the Flagstaff mountains, the Meteor Crater remains pretty much as it looked in the moments after impact. It looks like it belongs on the moon or Mars, not in a verdant, changing world such as ours. Yet there it is, not a fossil but an empty space; evidence of the great world beyond ours.

Meteor impact craters are cool for many obvious reasons. I list them here not to insult your intelligence, but merely to present the data as articulately and objectively as possible.

Meteor craters are formed when a rock from outer space crashes into the Earth’s crust. The meteor travels so quickly and hits so hard that it actually alters the structure of the minerals in the ground at the impact site. It is a very loud event, much louder than anyone would want it to be. A person standing near the impact site would literally be blown away by its awesomeness (and have his eardrums blown out as well). If the meteor is large enough, its impact can change the Earth’s atmosphere for many years. Most scientists agree that a meteor impact near the Yucatan peninsula was the main cause of the dinosaur’s extinction. Any object that can kill off every last dinosaur demands our respect.

There is a theory that a meteor impact around 540 AD darkened the world for two years. The resulting downturn in civilizations everywhere came to be known as the Dark Ages.

Another meteoric theory holds that organic matter carried in from space was the stuff that began life on Earth. Scientists discovered rocks from Mars that lay buried in Antarctica with evidence of possible life, as well. Did a meteor hit Earth at just the right time for the rise of life as we know it? I can’t imagine a cooler scenario.

Another impact in the Earth’s history likely resulted in the creation of the moon. The Earth used to be larger, the theory goes, until a meteor hit, shattering shards of Earth into orbit. The largest of those pieces eventually coalesced into the moon.

It is safe to assume that the universe is really just hunks of matter slamming against each other. Is this the meaning of life? If so, that gives the impact crater an advantage over calderas as “coolest.” But let’s examine calderas a bit more closely before we make our final judgment.

 

Caldera

crater lake national park

Imagine the scene: 7,700 years ago, the land that is now called Oregon experienced an explosion 42 times greater than the Mt. Saint Helens explosion of 1980. 12 cubic miles of liquid hot magma exploded from Mt. Mazama. Ash spewed 30 miles high. Geologists can easily date events in Oregon because of the thick black line that was the layer of ash that fell after Mazama’s eruption.

Ranked by Falling Rock’s secretive inner circle as “World’s Greatest Caldera,” Crater Lake National Park in Oregon is not only a prime example of nature’s might but a strikingly clean, beautiful lake. When Mt. Mazama erupted in fiery brilliance lo those 7,700 years ago, it left behind sheer rock walls that would trap the abundant snow and rain into a natural reservoir. Crater Lake today has a maximum depth of 1,958 feet. Not only that, but smaller volcanoes would form, erupt, and become extinct within Manzama’s caldera, leaving two islands where a small number of pine trees and birds now eke out a living.

Volcanoes shape the Earth’s crust and there is literally nothing we can do about it. They leave behind more than just calderas: the island paradise of Hawaii was formed in this way, as was Easter Island, the US Virgin Islands©, Samoa, Australia, Chile, and Tangiers. (Ed. Note: this article was not fact-checked. Please view all “facts” as opinion of Falling Rock and Falling Rock Enterprises, a subsidiary of Viacom Entertainment.)

Volcanoes such as Krakatoa can change the Earth’s atmosphere and costs tens of thousands of human lives. That volcano caused England to experience beautiful sunsets for weeks. The untold destruction near the volcano – people and animals dead, jungles stripped – was less remarked upon by the English.

Unlike an impact crater (a one-time deal), a volcano can spontaneously re-ignite and spew its own brand of justice upon an unsuspecting populace. I would be hard-pressed to think of a better example of nature’s simultaneous cruelty and beauty. Cruel death, beautiful lava formations afterward.

Our world is truly a dangerous place to live, but I cannot think of anywhere I’d rather be.

Conclusions

Although calderas are formed by the Earth itself, Falling Rock concludes that impact craters are indeed the cooler of the two. Rocks from space, organic matter from the cosmos, the formation of not just our planet but our satellite: it all adds up. Impact craters are indeed the cooler of the two.

We encourage you, dear readers, to come to your own conclusions. Both types of crater are undeniably cool; have no illusions to the contrary. We hope we have provided you with the facts to argue either point. And really, the fun is in the discussion, not the outcome.

But impact craters are cooler.