Star Struck

a large meteor crater in the Arizona desertThe desert stretched to the horizon and beyond. The Interstate ran straight, unrestricted by any obstruction. Leaving the snow-covered slopes–the stage set of Flagstaff–gleaming brightly under the sun, I headed for New Mexico. The storm two days earlier and the chill of the late March air preserved the patches of white the storm had deposited between the small hummocks on the flat desert floor.

Off to the southeast a small mound arose from the desert around it. I passed an exit to Two Guns (I thought, San Jose should be so lucky–or did that mean per person?) and continued hurtling east when I spotted the sign that said Meteor Crater.

I knew in a flash I must see it, given my bent for such matters. I turned south on a small road through the desert leaving the traffic behind. The seeming flat of the desert vanished. The road undulated like waves on the ocean following the gentle contours of the land. A friendly sign caution drivers to “Please Slow Down. Calves May be Present on the Road”–this country’s equivalent to “Drive Slowly, Children at Play”. Miles passed. The mound I had spotted grew larger. As I approached it was clear; this was the meteor crater.

At this very spot in the past a projectile from space had touched down. Fifty thousand years ago a space-raindrop had left its mark on the earth, its force making a mound that could be seen for dozens of miles. A mere 150 feet in diameter–reaching no more than the fifty yard line–in an instant it excavated an arena large enough for gridiron warriors from forty colleges to compete on twenty full-sized fields ringed by a grandstand of millions.

Now more a mountain than a mound, I approached. Four stories up and barely started, I climbed as rocks towered above me. I continued up and up and up. At last an observation deck gave a view of the crater below. Measuring a near-mile across, the depth of a sixty-story building had been blasted out of the floor of the desert sending the rim I stood on high above the now seemingly flat floor of the land.

This meteor had assaulted the earth. Its metallic core had penetrated deep into the earth’s surface. Traveling 40,000 miles per hour, it vaporized and melted rocks on impact, hurling boulders, some the size of a house for miles in all directions, creating clouds of molten nickel to rain down on the face of the desert. In a flash small bits of rock were turned to diamonds, such was the force of the blow.

But this isn’t once-in-an-Earthtime. Space-rain will happen again. A million, a billion, a trillion, space-drops drench all that exists. Earth cannot avoid them forever. What will they do to our planet? What have they done in the past? Questions as vast as the desert that will only be answered by time.

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