CRATER EJECTA

IMPACT CRATER EJECTA

by: Charles O’Dale

      • 1. introduction
      • 2. definitions
        • autochthonous
        • allochthonous
        • parautochthonous
      • 3. ejecta types
        • distal
        • proximal
        • blanket
        • layer
      • 4. specific crater ejecta
        • Barringer
        • Manicouagan
        • Sudbury
        • Whitecourt
      • 5. tektite
        • definition
        • strewen fields
        • Australasian
        • Chicxulub
        • Darwin Glass
        • Ivory Coast
        • Libyan Desert Glass
        • Moldavite
        • North American tektites
        • layer
      • 6. Reference

1. INTRODUCTION

When the crater formation process ends, the resulting circular structure and the surrounding area is covered by an ejecta blanket. The factors affecting the appearance of impact crater ejecta are the geology of the target surface and the size and velocity of the impactor. Another factor, the impact angle, will modify the pattern of the ejecta blanket. A study at the Ames Vertical Gun Ballistic Range confirmed this effect.

Impact ejecta on the rim of the Barringer Crater. The large rocks on the top of the rim were ejected upon the impact explosion from within the crater.

The studies found that the ejecta pattern remains more or less linear around the impact site until the impact angle is <45° (measured from horizontal). At shallower angles the crater becomes increasingly elongated in the direction of projectile travel, and the ejecta patterns undergo even more pronounced changes. When the impact angle is <15°, the ejecta pattern becomes elongated in the downrange direction and an exclusion zone, where no ejecta appears, develops in the uprange direction. Exotic ejecta patterns like this can be found on the Moon, as well as elsewhere in the solar system (Wood, 2003).

2. DEFINITIONS:


AUTOCHTHONOUS – (formed in place);

The Beaverhead impact structure in SW Montana and Idaho is an allochthonous fragment of a ~100 km diameter impact structure that was transported some distance eastward during the Cretaceous Sevier orogeny.

ALLOCHTHONOUS – (formed elsewhere and clearly moved to their current location).
Allochthonous impactites can be further subdivided into those within and around the final crater (proximal) and those some distance from the final crater (distal). The latter are always ejecta, including air – fall deposits. (Grieve / Therriault 2013) Of rocks whose primary constituents have not been formed in situ (formed elsewhere and clearly moved to their current location).

Autochthonous impact breccia in the Manicouagan Impact Crater. In this image are original blocks of country rock within the impact melted country rock forming impact breccia. Note the white margin around the large breccia fragment. This white margin is a heat affected zone. The matrix material was hot enough during the formation of this breccia to produce a recrystallized band around the clast , a Heat Affected Zone, but there was not sufficient heat that flowed into the clast to melt it (Dr. Lynn B. Lundberg, PhD).

PARAUTOCHTHONOUS – (moved but appear to be in place)
Ground which has been disturbed by impact, thrust or nappe displacement, but where the displacement is small enough that the rocks are still in contact with their source (moved but appear to be in place).

The Sudbury impact structure sits on the Grenville-Superior craton collision. The south “rim” of the structure is a parautochthon distortion. The Grenville parautochthon (which sits NW of the Grenville Front), but which (though disturbed) is still clearly part of the Superior Province margin to the north.

3. EJECTA TYPES

Solid, liquid and vaporized material ejected from an impact crater during its formation.

EJECTA (DISTAL)

Impact ejecta found at distances greater than 5 crater radii from the rim of the source crater, as opposed to proximal ejecta, which are found closer than 5 crater radii from the crater rim, and which make up about 90% of all material thrown out of the crater during the impact event.

Distal ejecta, at Thunder Bay Ontario, from the Sudbury impact event. The Sudbury impact occurred 650–875 km to the east of this site at 1850 ± 1 Ma.

 

EJECTA (PROXIMAL)

All ejecta that are found up to 5 crater radii from the rim of the impact crater; 90% of all ejecta are found within this region. Note that the limit of proximal ejecta scales with the crater size. Ejecta found at greater distances are called distal ejecta.

Proximal ejecta from the Whitecourt Impact Crater.

 

EJECTA (BLANKET)

An ejecta blanket is a generally symmetrical apron of ejecta that surrounds an impact crater; it is layered thickly at the crater’s rim and thin to discontinuous at the blanket’s outer edge.

Cross sections of the Whitecourt Crater ejecta blanket along 038° and 110° with a reference figure showing the location of the sections. (Kofman et al – Meteoritics & Planetary Science 2010)

 

EJECTA (LAYER)

STOKES LAW: If the particles are falling in the viscous fluid by their own weight due to the Earth’s gravity, then a terminal velocity, also known as the settling velocity, is reached when this frictional force combined with the buoyant force exactly balance the gravitational force. The resulting settling velocity (or terminal velocity) is given by:

Vs = ( 2 (ρpρf ) / 9 η ) g R2 where:

  • Vs is the particles’ settling velocity (m/s) (vertically downwards if ρp > ρf, upwards if ρp < ρf ),
  • R is the radius of the spherical object (in metres),
  • g is the Earth’s gravitational acceleration (m/s2),
  • ρp is the mass density of the particles (kg/m3),
  • ρf is the mass density of the fluid (kg/m3), and
  • η is the fluid’s viscosity (in [kg m-1 s-1]).

There are three stages to the impact cratering process, contact & compression, excavation and modification. The excavation stage is further subdivided into two distinct processes:

      1. upward ejection of large near-surface fragments and smaller ejecta (ejecta curtain);
      2. subsurface flow of target material to form the transient crater.

 

4. SPECIFIC CRATER EJECTA:

BARRINGER

 

Barringer Crater imaged in infrared by ASTER (Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer) part of NASA’s Earth Observing System – Image courtesy of IVIS Laboratory, Univ. of Pittsburgh

On our planet, erosion will quickly remove this blanket and destroy any surviving meteorite fragments, with the result that crater ejecta remains in only the youngest and best-preserved impact structures. This ASTER Infra Red image documents the pattern of the ejecta blanket around the relatively young Barringer Crater. The pattern of the ejecta blanket, although it has been modified by 49K years of erosion, implies an impact from the south west. The majority of the ejecta blanket forms in the north east, downrange, direction.

 

The light coloured north east flowing ejecta blanket of the Barringer Crater is visible from left centre to bottom centre of the image (image looking southwesterly).

Some of the Barringer Crater ejecta curtain can been seen here in visible light as illustrated in this image. I took this image of the crater from about 1000′ above the ground. The “lighter” coloured sand is the remnants of the ejecta curtain. The pattern of the ejecta implies that the direction of the impactor was from the upper left of this image. If I was flying here at the time of impact, 49 thousand years ago, I would not know what hit me!!

MANICOUAGAN

The Manicouagan impact may not have had a significant effect on life. No extinctions are recorded at the documented time of impact, 214 million years ago. The fireball generated by the impact probably expanded as far as the present location of New York City.

The impact also triggered powerful seismic events and ejected material out of the atmosphere. The ejected material was sent on a ballistic trajectory around the earth. Like the Chicxulub impact, the Manicouagan impact left behind a global geochemical signature in the rock record.

As a result of the Manicouagan impact, molten rock and dust from this bedrock left a thin layer of glass beads and shattered mineral grains in a rock deposit in the United Kingdom.

The Manicouagan impact left behind a global geochemical signature in the rock record (see text).

Dating of this UK deposit connected it to Manicouagan precluding most of the European impact sites nearby as the source of the deposit layer.

The documented late Triassic spherule layer of SW England deposit (illustrated here) contains an abundance of spherules, common shocked quartz and a suite of accessory minerals believed to have been derived direct from the impact site. These include garnets, ilmenites, zircons and biotites. Garnets and ilmenites are highly fractured, and biotites show prominent kink bands indicative of shock.
The Manicouagan impact left behind a global geochemical signature in the rock record (see text).

In an article published today (November 14, 2002) in the journal Science researchers led by Dr. Gordon Walkden of Aberdeen University have reported the discovery of a 214 million year old impact layer in the rocks of the west of England. The 2 cm thick layer consists of millimetre-sized green spherules that were formed as molten droplets of rock in the impact of a large asteroid or comet with the Earth. The droplets formed by condensation from gasses generated by vaporisation of rocks at enormous temperatures and were scattered over the entire Earth surface.Julian Parker, from Aberdeen, studied the spherule layer with Walkden and discovered quartz grains that had been deformed by intense pressures. “The orientation of the distorted planes through the grains showed they had been shocked,” said Walkden, “and proves the layer was formed as debris thrown out from a giant collision.” Dr. Simon Kelly, from the Open University, measured the age of the spherule layer using the decay of radioactive potassium that is found in all potassium-bearing minerals. The age of 214 million years is the same as the 100 km wide Manicouagan impact structure in Canada which is, therefore, the likely source of the impact layer. Kelly, however, suspects that a number of craters that have similar ages may have formed the same time as a string of impacts.

Walkden, Kelley, Parker, Thackrey (2006), THE ANATOMY OF A NEW IMPACT DEPOSIT: THE LATE TRIASSIC SPHERULE LAYER, SW. ENGLAND European Space Agency: [SELECTED QUOTES]The documented late Triassic spherule layer of SW England deposit (illustrated here) contains an abundance of spherules, common shocked quartz and a suite of accessory minerals believed to have been derived direct from the impact site. These include garnets, ilmenites, zircons and biotites. Garnets and ilmenites are highly fractured, and biotites show prominent kink bands indicative of shock.

The time of the deposit was determined by noting the decay of radioactive potassium in the spherule layer and dates at 214 ± 2.5Ma. This is comfortably within the date of the late Triassic Manicouagan impact event.
Single grain K-Ar ages for the biotites are in the range 700-1100Ma which are superficially similar to the Grenville rocks around the Manicouagan impact site. Given the geometry of the contemporaneous Triassic continental assembly, the contact point of the impactor was only 20 crater diameters from the site of deposition of this ejecta layer. (Thackrey et al 2006) [SELECTED QUOTES]

A distal impact deposit has recently been reported from a location near Bristol, England. The 0-15 cm thick, discontinuous layer is of Late Triassic age and occurs in a sequence of red calcareous mudstones deposited unconformably on Carboniferous limestone, in a semi-arid, continental environment. It consists of closely packed, millimetre sized green spherules, composed of a green clay surrounding a calcitic or hollow core. They have been inferred to be diagenetically altered type I spherules, formed from quenched impact-melt droplets, deposited aerially from an expanding impact ejecta curtain. The stratum, with a reported 39Ar – 40Ar age of approximately 214 Ma, is coincident with the age of two known impact craters from the Late Triassic, Manicouagan in Canada and Rochechouart in France. The focus of the present study is to determine if a meteoritic component and projectile type can be identified from this impactoclastic air-fall bed and adjacent strata, using a combination of geochemical analyses – chromium isotope systematics, siderophile and platinum group elemental ratios. In particular, we have developed a new method for the isolation and concentration of chromium, following sample dissolution. Chromium isotope ratios are determined using a multiple collector, inductively coupled plasma, mass spectrometer (MC-ICP-MS) for which the conditions have been established to obtain high precision ratio measurements. ( AMOR et al 2005).

SUDBURY

Sudbury Impact Distal Ejecta at Hillcrest Park, Thunder Bay Ontario – 2013.

Abstract–The 1.85 Ga Sudbury impact structure is one of the largest impact structures on Earth. Igneous bodies—the so-called “Basal Onaping Intrusion”—occur at the contact between the Sudbury Igneous Complex (SIC) and the overlying Onaping Formation and occupy ~50% of this contact zone. The Basal Onaping Intrusion is presently considered part of the Onaping Formation, which is a complex series of breccias. Here, we present petrological and geochemical data from two drill cores and field data from the North Range of the Sudbury structure, which suggests that the Basal Onaping Intrusion is not part of the Onaping Formation. Our observations indicate that the Basal Onaping Intrusion crystallized from a melt and has a groundmass comprising a skeletal intergrowth of feldspar and quartz that points to simultaneous cooling of both components. Increasing grain size and decreasing amounts of clasts with increasing depth are general features of roof rocks of coherent impact melt rocks at other impact structures and the Basal Onaping Intrusion. Planar deformation features within quartz clasts of the Basal Onaping Intrusion are indicators for shock metamorphism and, together with the melt matrix, point to the Basal Onaping Intrusion as being an impact melt rock, by definition. Importantly, the contact between Granophyre of the SIC and Basal Onaping Intrusion is transitional and we suggest that the Basal Onaping Intrusion is what remains of the roof rocks of the SIC and, thus, is a unit of the SIC and not the Onaping Formation. (Anders et al 2015)

Discovery of distal ejecta from the 1850 Ma Sudbury impact eventWilliam D. Addison, Gregory R. Brumpton, Daniela A. Vallini, Neal J. McNaughton, Don W. Davis, Stephen A. Kissin, Philip W. Fralick, Anne L. Hammond GEOLOGY, March 2005

ABSTRACT A 25–70-cm-thick, laterally correlative layer near the contact between the Paleoproterozoic sedimentary Gunflint Iron Formation and overlying Rove Formation and between the Biwabik Iron Formation and overlying Virginia Formation, western Lake Superior region, contains shocked quartz and feldspar grains found within accretionary lapilli, accreted grain clusters, and spherule masses, demonstrating that the layer contains hypervelocity impact ejecta. Zircon geochronologic data from tuffaceous horizons bracketing the layer reveal that it formed between ca. 1878 Ma and 1836 Ma. The Sudbury impact event, which occurred 650–875 km to the east at 1850 ± 1 Ma, is therefore the likely ejecta source, making these the oldest ejecta linked to a specific impact. Shock features, particularly planar deformation features, are remarkably well preserved in localized zones within the ejecta, whereas in other zones, mineral replacement, primarily carbonate, has significantly altered or destroyed ejecta features.

WHITECOURT

Cross sections of the ejecta blanket along 038° and 110° with a reference figure showing the location of the sections. Approximate distribution of the ejecta blanket and the main soil pit and auger hole site locations are also provided. (Kofman et al – Meteoritics & Planetary Science 2010)
An image of the contact between the ejecta and the top of the paleosol, organics (charcoal), and underlying Ah horizon, used to delineate the ejecta blanket as revealed in the sample chamber of the auger. In this image, the overlying ejecta represents ejected Ae horizon material. Way up is to the left.
Proximal ejecta located at the first sample site southwest of the crater rim along the A–A′ . The horizons indicated are disturbed, and represent sediment from which the ejecta was derived.

5. TEKTITE

Natural, silica-rich, homogeneous glasses produced by complete melting and dispersed as aerodynamically shaped droplets during terrestrial impact events. The process of tektite formation is disputed, but many researchers believe that they are formed in the early contact and compression stage of impact cratering. They range in color from black or dark brown to gray or green. Tektites have been found in  “strewn fields” on the Earth’s surface.

Tektites are small, glassy pebble-like objects that form during meteorite impact. They represent droplets of molten target rock that are ejected up into the Earth’s atmosphere, which then fall back to the surface up to several hundred kilometers from where their source impact crater. They often acquire aerodynamic shapes as they fly through the atmosphere.

The name tektite comes from the Greek word ‘tektos’, meaning ‘molten’. Tektites do not contain any water. They can be mistaken for obsidian or pitchstone (black volcanic glasses), but these will emit some water on strong heating. Their density is similar to, or a little lighter than, quartz beach sand.

[see DATING – TEKTITES]

TEKTITE STREWN FIELDS

Tektites often occur in so-called strewn fields, areas over which tektites with similar chemical and physical properties are found.

 

AUSTRALASIAN

Several Australasian tektites (from Thailand), showing the variety in shapes and forms. Tektites are distal impact ejecta, which formed by total melting of continental crustal target rocks (source crater still unknown, although a large crater in Western Cambodia, Lake Tonle Sap, has been proposed).

Australasian microtektites: Impactor identification using Cr, Co and Ni ratios

 

CHICXULUB

Chicxulub Impact structure spherules (microtektites) are abundant components of the K-T boundary that encircles the Earth. They are less than 0.5mm in diameter and consist mostly of Ni-bearing magnesioferrite spinel crystals (at the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa).

Dating K-T Tektites
One of the most exciting and important scientific findings in decades was the 1980 discovery that a large asteroid, about 10 kilometers diameter, struck the earth at the end of the Cretaceous Period. The collision threw many tons of debris into the atmosphere and possibly led to the extinction of the dinosaurs and many other life forms. The fallout from this enormous impact, including shocked quartz and high concentrations of the element iridium, has been found in sedimentary rocks at more than 100 locations worldwide at the precise stratigraphic location of the Cretaceous-Tertiary (K-T) boundary (Alvarez and Asaro 1990; Alvarez 1998). We now know that the impact site is located on the Yucatan Peninsula. Measuring the age of this impact event independently of the stratigraphic evidence is an obvious test for radiometric methods, and a number of scientists in laboratories around the world set to work.

In addition to shocked quartz grains and high concentrations of iridium, the K-T impact produced tektites, which are small glass spherules that form from rock that is instantaneously melted by a large impact. The K-T tektites were ejected into the atmosphere and deposited some distance away. Tektites are easily recognizable and form in no other way, so the discovery of a sedimentary bed (the Beloc Formation) in Haiti that contained tektites and that, from fossil evidence, coincided with the K-T boundary provided an obvious candidate for dating. Scientists from the US Geological Survey were the first to obtain radiometric ages for the tektites and laboratories in Berkeley, Stanford, Canada, and France soon followed suit. The results from all of the laboratories were remarkably consistent with the measured ages ranging only from 64.4 to 65.1 Ma (Table 2). Similar tektites were also found in Mexico, and the Berkeley lab found that they were the same age as the Haiti tektites. But the story doesn’t end there.

The K-T boundary is recorded in numerous sedimentary beds around the world. The Z-coal, the Ferris coal, and the Nevis coal in Montana and Saskatchewan all occur immediately above the K-T boundary. Numerous thin beds of volcanic ash occur within these coals just centimeters above the K-T boundary, and some of these ash beds contain minerals that can be dated radiometrically. Ash beds from each of these coals have been dated by 40Ar/39Ar, K-Ar, Rb-Sr, and U-Pb methods in several laboratories in the US and Canada. Since both the ash beds and the tektites occur either at or very near the K-T boundary, as determined by diagnostic fossils, the tektites and the ash beds should be very nearly the same age, and they are (Table 2).

There are several important things to note about these results. First, the Cretaceous and Tertiary periods were defined by geologists in the early 1800s. The boundary between these periods (the K-T boundary) is marked by an abrupt change in fossils found in sedimentary rocks worldwide. Its exact location in the stratigraphic column at any locality has nothing to do with radiometric dating — it is located by careful study of the fossils and the rocks that contain them, and nothing more. Second, the radiometric age measurements, 187 of them, were made on 3 different minerals and on glass by 3 distinctly different dating methods (K-Ar and 40Ar/39Ar are technical variations that use the same parent-daughter decay scheme), each involving different elements with different half-lives. Furthermore, the dating was done in 6 different laboratories and the materials were collected from 5 different locations in the Western Hemisphere.

DARWIN GLASS

Darwin glass is a natural glass found south of Queenstown in West Coast, Tasmania. It takes its name from Mount Darwin in the West Coast Range, where it was first reported, and later gave its name to Darwin Crater, a probable impact crater, and the inferred source of the glass.

 

IVORY COAST

Ivory Coast (linked to the Bosumtwi crater in Ghana, West Africa)

 

LIBYAN DESERT GLASS

The origin of Libyan Desert glass is uncertain. Meteoritic origins have long been considered possible, and recent research links the glass to impact features, such as zircon-breakdown, vaporized quartz and meteoritic metals, and to an impact crater. Some geologists associate the glass with radiative melting from meteoric large aerial bursts, making it analogous to trinitite created from sand exposed to the thermal radiation of a nuclear explosion. Libyan Desert glass has been dated as having formed about 26 million years ago.

 

MOLDAVITE

Moldavite is an unusual type of tektite with a beautiful translucent green clarity. The moldavites are tektites derived from the Ries impact structure, German. Moldavite is a special term coming from German and means ‘Vltava River Stone’.

 

NORTH AMERICAN

The age of the 85-kilometer-diameter Chesapeake Bay impact structure (35 million years old)  and the composition of some of its breccia clasts are consistent with the structure being the source of the North American tektites.

6. REFERENCE:

AMOR, Kenneth, HESSELBO, Stephen P., and PORCELLI (2005), GEOCHEMICAL ANALYSIS OF A LATE TRIASSIC DISTAL IMPACT EJECTA LAYER FROM SW ENGLAND. Donald Department of Earth Sciences, University of Oxford.

Denise ANDERS, Gordon R. OSINSKI, Richard A. F. GRIEVE, and Derek T. M. BRILLINGER (2015); The Basal Onaping Intrusion in the North Range: Roof rocks of the Sudbury Igneous Complex.  Meteoritics & Planetary Science 50, Nr 9, 1577–1594 (2015)

Richard A. F. Grieve and Ann M. Therriault. (2013); Impactites: their characteristics and spatial distribution.  Earth Sciences Sector, Natural Resources Canada

Kofman R.S., Herd C.D.K., Froese D.G., (2010); The Results of the Investigation of the Whitecourt Crater (Alberta, Canada), GeoCanada 2010 – Working with the Earth

Thackrey, Walkden, Kelley, Parker,  (2006); THE ANATOMY OF A NEW IMPACT DEPOSIT: THE LATE TRIASSIC SPHERULE LAYER, SW. ENGLAND European Space Agency:

Wood, C.A. 2003. The Modern Moon, Sky Publishing Corp.