Daniel Barringer and the Barringer Crater

Daniel Barringer

Daniel Barringer

On May 25, 1860, American geologist Daniel Moreau Barringer was born. Barringer is best known as the first person to prove the existence of an impact crater on the Earth, the Meteor Crater in Arizona. The site has been renamed the Barringer Crater in his honor, although this name is mainly used in the scientific community.

Daniel Barringer attended Princeton University where he graduated in 1879. In 1882 he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Law. He later studied geology and mineralogy at Harvard University and at the University of Virginia, respectively.

Probably in 1902, he learned of the existence of a large crater, located 35 miles east of Flagstaff, Arizona. The crater, known as Coon Mountain, had previously been studied by the geologist Grove Karl Gilbert in 1891. Gilbert had hypothesized that the crater must have been the result of either a gas explosion or a meteorite. Gilbert however cam to the conclusion that the crater must be the result of an explosion, even though there was apparently a clear presence of thousands of small meteoritic particles in the vicinity of the crater.

Arizona Meteorcrater

Arizona Meteorcrater

After hearing of the existence of the crater and the meteoritic iron, Barringer became convinced that the crater was of meteoritic origin. He created the “Standard Iron Company” in order to mine the crater for the iron that he assumed must be buried below its surface. The company conducted drilling operations in and around the crater between 1903 and 1905, and concluded that the crater had indeed been caused by a violent impact. It was unable to find the meteorite, however.

In 1906, Barringer and his partner, the mathematician and physicist Benjamin C. Tilghman, presented their first papers to the U.S. Geological Survey outlining the evidence in support of the impact theory. The papers were published in the Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia. Daniel Barringer believed that the enormous meteorite must be there, still and spent over $600,000 in mining the crater, nearly bankrupting him. Astronomer r Forest Ray Moulton performed calculations on the energy expended by the meteorite on impact, and concluded that the meteorite had most likely vaporized when it landed.

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