The Canyon Diablo impact event: 2. Projectile fate and target melting upon impact


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Abstract– Despite its centennial exploration history, there are still unresolved questions about Meteor Crater, the first recognized impact crater on Earth. This theoretical study addresses some of these questions by comparing model results with field and laboratory studies of Meteor Crater. Our results indicate that Meteor Crater was formed by a high-velocity impact of a fragmented projectile, ruling out a highly dispersed swarm as well as a very low impact velocity. Projectile fragmentation caused many fragments to fall separately from the main body of the impactor, making up the bulk of the Canyon Diablo meteorites; most of these fragments were engulfed in the expansion plume as they approached the surface without suffering high shock compression, and were redistributed randomly around the crater. Thus, the distribution of Canyon Diablo meteorites is not representative of projectile trajectory, as is usual for impactor fragments in smaller strewn fields. At least 50% of the main impactor was ejected from the crater during crater excavation and was dispersed mostly downrange of the crater as molten particles (spheroids) and highly shocked solid fragments (shrapnel). When compared with the known distribution, model results suggest an impactor from the SW. Overall, every model case produced much higher amounts of pure projectile material than observed. The projectile-target mixing was not considered in the models; however, this process could be the main sink of projectile melt, as all analyzed melt particles have high concentrations of projectile material. The fate of the solid projectile fragments is still not completely resolved. Model results suggest that the depth of melting in the target can reach the Coconino sandstone formation. However, most of the ejected melt originates from 30–40 m depth and, thus, is limited to Moenkopi and upper Kaibab material. Some melt remains in the target; based on the estimated volume of the breccia lens at Meteor Crater, our models suggest at most a 2% content of melt in the breccia. Finally, a high water table at the time of impact could have aided strong dispersion of target and projectile melt.