by: Charles O’Dale

The petrographic and geochemical study of actual rocks from the potential impact structure will bring final confirmation of the presence of an impact structure. In case of a structure that is not exposed on the surface, drill-core samples are essential. Good materials for the recognition of an impact origin are various types of breccia and melt rocks. These rocks often carry unambiguous evidence for the impact origin of a structure in the form of shocked mineral and lithic clasts or a contamination from the extraterrestrial projectile.


Of rocks whose primary constituents have not been formed in situ (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.

Allochthonous – something unequivocally displaced (physically moved) from where it was to start with . Usually applies to things like nappes and thrust sheets that have been translated on major flat-lying faults during continental collisions and the like. However, could also apply at the scale of impact-generated movements too. Grieve may also be referring to thrust or nappe displacements in the bedrock that was impacted. but which pre-date the impact by a long time.

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.

Material that is formed or introduced from somewhere other than the place it is presently found. In impact cratering this may refer to the fragmented rock thrown out of the crater during its formation that either falls back to partly fill the crater or blankets its outer flanks after the impact event. In the case of the Beaverhead Impact structure, the crater remnants are found in a place other than where it and its constituents were formed.




Cosmic body in the asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. The largest asteroid, Ceres, has a diameter of roughly 1,000 km. Asteroids from Earth-crossing orbits are potential impactors.

On 9 December 2015, scientists reported that the bright spots on Ceres. One of the spots is located in 80-kilometer diameter Occator Crateran. The spots may be related to a type of salt, particularly a form of brine containing hydrated magnesium sulfate.

Any of the numerous small rocky bodies in orbit around the Sun. Most asteroids reside in the “main belt” between Mars and Jupiter, but some have orbits that cross the Earth’s orbit and could strike its surface.



“star wound”; crater formed by meteorite impact.

The ~320 kilometer diameter Schrödinger basin “astroblem” on the lunar farside is an exceptionally well-exposed example of a peak-ring basin and probably closely mimics the appearance the Chicxulubastroblem” before it was buried.





Originating where found (formed in place).

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).




Called also meteor crater, Arizona crater, Coon Butte, Canyon Diablo crater, Crater Mound.

1,200 m-diameter and 175 m-depth impact crater within the Colorado Plateau in Arizona, USA. Archetype of a meteorite crater. At the end of the 19th century, Meteor crater marks the beginning of the bitter controversy about the cosmic or endogenetic origin of terrestrial craters and ring structures.

A 50 meter diameter 300,000 ton iron meteorite impacted here at approximately 15 km/sec. It vaporized on impact with the resulting explosion creating the Barringer crater,



“Fire-ball”; meteor exploding in passing through the Earth’s atmosphere.

The Chelyabinsk meteor was a super bolide caused by an approximately 20-metre near-Earth asteroid that entered Earth’s atmosphere over Russia on 15 February 2013 at about 09:20 YEKT (03:20 UTC), with a speed of 19.16 ± 0.15 kilometres per second (60,000[5]–69,000 km/h or 40,000[5]–42,900 mph). It quickly became a brilliant superbolide meteor over the southern Ural region. The light from the meteor was brighter than the Sun, visible up to 100 km (62 mi) away. It was observed over a wide area of the region and in neighbouring republics. Some eyewitnesses also felt intense heat from the fireball.


A clastic sedimentary rock composed of angular clasts in a consolidated matrix. Breccias can be produced in several geologic processes: tectonic breccia, volcanic breccia (eruption breccia, vent breccia), sedimentary breccia (e.g., rock fall breccia), collapse breccia (e.g., in karst areas). Depending on the origin of the clasts, monomictic (monogenetic, monolithologic) and polymictic (polygenetic, polylithologic) breccias may be distinguished.

Conglomerate breccia found within the Pingualuit Impact Crater.

The word is a loan from Italian indicating both loose gravel and stone made by cemented gravel. A breccia may have a variety of different origins, as indicated by the named types including sedimentary breccia, tectonic breccia, igneous breccia, impact breccia and hydrothermal breccia.



(= multicolored breccia; local name) Impact ejecta deposit of the Ries impact structure (Germany). See Image.

Suevite overlying Bunte Breccia at Aumühle quarry Photo: G. Osinski, University of Western Ontario

At the Ries Crater in the image, there are two varieties of impact metamorphism. A grey well-consolidated suevite overlying a coarser bunte breccia. The suevite contains numerous pieces of black deformed glass and altered basement rocks held in a fine matrix of altered glass. Bunte breccia is largely a turbulent mixture of deformed sedimentary rocks. The suevite is formed from the basement below 700 m, and the bunte breccia from the overlying sedimentary rocks. (Dence 2005; “Half a Century of Searching for Impact Craters in Canada” – RASC presentation.)



A dike in the common geological sense is a mostly tabular body of different materials (minerals, rocks, ores) cross-cutting the host rock. In impact structures, breccia dikes have played an important role in the understanding of the impact cratering process. It is generally suggested that for the most part the breccia dikes are formed in the excavation stage by injection of brecciated material into the walls and the floor of the expanding excavation cavity. Later formations of breccia dikes in the modification stage incorporating earlier formed ones may lead to generations of breccia dikes.

Schematic radial cross-section through one-half of a simple impact structure, showing locations of different impact-produced lithologies. Curved lines show isobars of shock pressures (in GPa) produced in the basement rocks by the impact.



The rocks at an impact target site are melted, shattered, and mixed during the impact explosion. When the site finally settles and cools, a new composite rock, impact breccia in bodies tens to hundreds of meters in size, is the result.

Lithologies showing these unique diagnostic shock effects, formed at pressures ≥10 GPa, tend to be restricted to two locations:

  1. crater-fill materials (suevites, melt breccias, and fragmental impact breccias) deposited in the crater; and
  2. brecciated basement rocks, often containing shatter cones, near the center of the structure.
in situ Impact Breccia within the Manicouagan Impact crater.




Refers to the composition of clasts. Monomict breccia will contain clasts of identical lithology and origin. If the dislocation metamorphism is impact-related, the produced cataclasite may be termed a monomict impact breccia.

Monomict 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.




Breccia composed of mixed clasts of different lithology and origin.

In situ polymict breccia on Patterson Island east within the Slate Islands impact structure. Polymict Breccias. The dominant type of breccia on the Slate Islands is polymict breccia and this typically occurs as veins and dikes varying in width from ~5 cm to 5 m. The matrix is typically fine grained and grey in colour. It contains a wide variety of angular to sub-rounded clasts of different lithologies, ranging in size from <1 mm to 10s of centimeters. Some of the clasts can also be seen to contain shatter cones. (Kerrigan et al, 2014)




A polymict impact breccia composed of fragments more or less shocked, and melt clasts in a clastic matrix.  Glass can make up more than half of the volume of a suevite. The minerals in the rock fragments within suevites (also called suevitic breccias) commonly display shock-metamorphic effects. Suevite was named after a rock found at Ries crater in southern Germany.

Suevite is a rock consisting partly of melted material, typically forming a breccia containing glass and crystal or lithic fragments, formed during an impact event. It forms part of a group of rock types and structures that are known as impactites.



The exposed core of uplifted rocks in complex meteorite impact craters. The central peak material typically shows evidence of intense fracturing, faulting, and shock metamorphism.

The ~5 km diameter Gow structure with a central peak, is one of the smallest currently known complex impact structures on earth (Grieve 2006).



Structural elevation (central peak) in complex impact structures. Originates from elastic rebound and transient-crater collapse in the modification stage of impact cratering.

Horseshoe Island, the central peak of the Mistastin impact crater.



Large buried impact structure in the Yucatan (Mexico) region that formed at the Cretaceous-Tertiary (K/T) boundary 65 Ma ago. The Chicxulub impact is generally assumed to be the main cause of the K/T mass extinction.

Chicxulub crater image of its gravitational field (NASA) .



A fragment of geological loose material, chunks and smaller grains of rock broken off other rocks by physical weathering. Geologists use the term clastic with reference to sedimentary rocks as well as to particles in sediment transport whether in suspension or as bed load, and in sediment deposits.

Impact breccia from the Ile Rouleau structure illustrating country rock clasts (fragments of geological loose material).



High-pressure polymorph of quartz (SiO2). Found in impact rocks and in rocks subjected to extreme regional metamorphism.

The presence of coesite in unmetamorphosed rocks may be evidence of a meteorite impact event or of an atomic bomb explosion. In metamorphic rocks, coesite commonly is one of the best mineral indicators of metamorphism at very high pressures.
Coesite is a form (polymorph) of silicon dioxide SiO2 that is formed when very high pressure (2–3 gigapascals), and moderately high temperature (700 °C or 1,300 °F), are applied to quartz.

Coesite has two morphologies: fine grade needle-like crystals or as greenish aggregates (a.k.a. “granular coesite”).

In 1960, coesite was found by Edward C. T. Chao, in collaboration with Eugene Shoemaker, to naturally occur in the Barringer Crater. This was evidence that the crater must have been formed by an impact.

Geologist Eugene Shoemaker (1928-1997) published the landmark paper conclusively demonstrating an impact origin for the Barringer Meteorite Crater. Photo: USGS

Coesite from the Wanapitei Impact structure, Dence 1974.




Cosmic body in a parabolic or highly elliptical orbit around the sun. Composed of meteoric dust and frozen C, O, H -compounds. Near the Sun, the icy material vaporizes and streams off the comet, forming a glowing tail. Comets are potential projectiles in impact cratering.

Comet Hyakutake, taken by Peter Ceravolo March 17, 1996 with film. Later processed by Debra Ceravolo.



An impact structure exhibiting a central uplift and/or inner rings that are formed by elastic rebound and slumping of the walls of the transient crater in the modification stage. The transition from simple to complex craters depends on the gravity of the impacted planetary body. On Earth, complex craters have diameters of roughly more than 4 km.

This false-color image shows a green ring depression that surrounds a central peak. The ring depression contains the Manicouagan Reservoir. A fracture halo, which extends out to -150 km from the center, was first noted on Skylab photography. This halo is best developed in the west and south.

The ~5 km diameter Gow structure with a central peak, is one of the smallest currently known complex impact structures on earth (Grieve 2006).









(A) HiRISE image of an unnamed simple crater on Mars (38.7° N, 316.1° E) displaying an elevated crater rim and steeply dipping upper cavity walls. The mid and lower parts of the wall are covered by talus deposits. (B) Kaguya/SELENE image (S0000001616_1906) of the complex impact crater Aristarchus on the Moon, showing a central peak, a fl at crater fl oor with isolated hummocks and an extensive slump-terrace zone. Note the different scale bars in the two images. (Collins et al 2012)

On this planet, impact craters are divided into basic morphologic subdivisions:

  • simple: The transition size between simple to complex craters is 2km in sediments and 4km in crystalline rocks (Dence 1972).
  • complex: The transition size between complex to ringed basin craters is 10 to 50 km (Osinski, G. 2008).
  • peak ring: With increasing diameter, impact structures become proportionately shallower and develop more complicated rims and floors, including the appearance of central peaks and interior rings.
Reflection seismic cross-section of Chicxulub along Chicx-A and -A1 (Bell et al. Forthcoming). The post-impact Tertiary sediments are clearly identifiable as high-frequency reflections from 0 to ~1 sec two-way travel time (TWTT). A topographic peak ring, with draped sediments, is identifiable on the floor of Chicxulub and separates the central basin from a surrounding annular trough. (GRIEVE et al 2003)
  • multi ring: It is not known if there are examples of true multi-ring basins, equivalent to those observed on the moon, on Earth (Grieve 2006). The Sudbury Impact Structure may be a multi-ring impact crater.

While a single interior ring is required to define a basin, basins have been subdivided, with increasing diameter on other planetary bodies, into;

  • central-peak basins, with both a peak and ring;
  • peak ring basins, with only a ring; and multi-ring basins, with two or more interior rings (Wood and Head 1976).



CRATER FORMATION (three stages)


First stage in the impact cratering process. On contact of the projectile (impactor) with the target, both become highly compressed leading to shock waves that move into both the target rocks and the projectile. The extreme temperatures in the shock fronts from the kinetic energy release are enough to completely vaporize the projectile and a comparable volume of the target rocks. The kinetic energy of an object of mass m traveling at a speed v is = mv2/2, provided v is much less than the speed of light.


The crater excavation stage (Melosh, 1980) overlaps somewhat with the compression stage and involves two processes:

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


Third stage of impact cratering assigned to the modification of the transient crater after excavation and ejection. In this stage, small craters undergo only slight modifications. Collapse of large transient craters by elastic rebound and slumping of the crater walls leads to the formation of complex impact structures with central uplifts, inner rings and terraced walls.

Hypothesized (H.J. Melosh); fluidization of rock debris subjected to strong vibrations possibly enable the collapse of the transient crater in the modification stage of impact cratering.

The modification stage of impact cratering is mostly over “by the time the dust settles”.
Crater modification by gravity – A mechanical analysis of slumping





The depth to diameter ratio of craters smaller than a certain size is a constant, as predicted by the Maxwell Z-model. Below a break point (10 km for the Moon), the ratio follows a power law, decreasing as size increases [Hiesinger, 2006, Sharpton, 1994]. Source: [Hiesinger, 2006].




The Earth is immersed in a swarm of Near Earth Asteroids (NEAs) capable of colliding with our planet, a fact that has become widely recognized within the past decade. The first comprehensive modern analysis of the impact hazard resulted from a NASA study requested by the United States Congress. This Spaceguard Survey Report (Morrison 1992) provided a quantitative estimate of the impact hazard as a function of impactor size (or energy) and advocated a strategy to deal with such a threat (Morrison, 2007).





The crater that exists at the end of the excavation stage of impact cratering. The transient crater undergoes only slight modification in the case of a small, bowl-shaped crater. Large transient craters exhibit a gravity-dependent instability which leads to its collapse by elastic rebound and slumping of the walls and, to a large extent, to filling up of the cavity. Consequently, these complex impact structures/craters show a much smaller depth-to-diameter ratio compared with simple, bowl-shaped craters.

The form of collapse is governed almost completely by the dimensionless parameter (pgh)/c, when <5.5 = stable, 10 = slope failure, ~>20 = failure (where p is the density of the excavated rock, g is the acceleration of gravity,  c is the yield strength of the substance), [from Melosh 1977 – The Role of Slumping in Crater Modification, Melosh, H. J. 1977]




The relatively stable portions of continents composed of shield areas and platform sediments. Typically, cratons are bounded by tectonically active regions characterized by uplift, faulting, and volcanic activity.

The Sudbury Structure sandwiched between the Superior Geologic or Structural Province and the Southern Geologic or Structural Province Huronian Supergroup cratons, deformed by the Penokean orogeny.



A major stratigraphic boudary on Earth marking the end of the Mesozoic Era, best known as the age of the dinosaurs. The boundary is defined by a global extinction event that caused the abrupt demise of the majority of all life on Earth. It has been dated to 65 million years ago, coeval with the age of the 200-kilometer-diameter Chicxulub impact structure in Mexico.

Cretaceous–Paleogene (K–Pg) boundary, formerly known as the Cretaceous–Tertiary (K–T) boundary – at the Royal Tyrrell Museum Drumheller Alberta.



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

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.



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.



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.



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)



Part of a theory explaining the forces that cause earthquakes. In impact cratering , elastic rebound describes the readjustment of the highly compressed floor of the transient cavity in the modification stage.

Charlevoix impact structure Digital Elevation Model with Earthquake Epicentres.







Extinction of many groups of organisms at a particular time by environmental catastrophe related with collapsing ecosystems. There are strong indications that some mass extinctions may be caused partly or completely by large asteroidal or cometary impacts.

Odale extinction.jpg



Gigapascal, 1 GPa = 1,000 MPa (Megapascal) = 109 Pascal, the SI unit of pressure. GPa is commonly used in the high-pressure range of shock deformation, 1 GPa = 10 kbar.



Geophysical method to measure variations of the gravity field related with subsurface density variations. Impact structures commonly show pronounced gravity negative anomalies due to the occurrence of low-density breccias, rock fracturing, and replacement of ejected material by post-impact young sediments. In very large impact structures, relative positive anomalies may be produced by the uplift (see; central uplift) of high-density material from the Earth’s lower crust and upper mantle.



A velocity approximately over 3,000 meters per second (6,700 mph, 11,000 km/h, 10,000 ft/s, or Mach 8.8). In particular, hypervelocity is velocity so high that the strength of materials upon impact is very small compared to inertial stresses.



Group of rocks that have crystallized from a magma; e.g., granite, basalt. Also see sedimentary rocks and metamorphic rocks.



An approximately circular depression in the surface of a solid body in the Solar System or elsewhere, formed by the hypervelocity impact of a smaller body.

Volcanic craters result from explosion or internal collapse. 

impact craters typically have raised rims and floors that are lower in elevation than the surrounding terrain.

Whitecourt Impact Crater –This image is derived by Light Detection And Ranging (LiDAR) technology. (Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, University of Alberta)

Impact cratering is one of the most common geological processes that have happened on planetary objects with solid surfaces (our home planet Earth included) and is unlike any other known natural geological process. Impact involves the transfer of massive amounts of energy to a relatively small area of the Earth’s surface, in an extremely short period of time (Kinetic energy).

The kinetic energy of an object of mass m traveling at a speed v is mv2/2, provided v is much less than the speed of light. The pressures and temperatures in the shock wave after impact are well above the magnitudes of pressures and temperatures occurring naturally on this planet.






A  line of craters along the surface of an astronomical body. The descriptor term for crater chains is catena (plural catenae).

Kakiattukallak Lake + crater chain(?), Quebec, Canada. Note the circled lake on the bottom of the oval depicting the possible crater chain. courtesy LandSat



In the broader sense: changes of minerals and rocks acquired in the impact cratering process including shock metamorphism, pseudotachylite and shattercone formation. In the narrow sense: metamorphism of minerals and rocks caused by shock from meteorite impact.




Is closely related to the terms impact crater and meteorite impact crater, and is used in cases in which erosion or burial has destroyed or masked the original topographic impact feature with which one normally associates the term crater.

Ground zero of the Carswell impact structure is imaged under the wing of GOZooM. The point of the meteorite impact is illustrated by the small superimposed circle. There is no surface expression of the original 39 Km diameter impact crater, hence the lable “structure”.





Impactite is the term used for all rocks produced or affected by a hypervelocity impact event (a.k.a. instant rocks). Impactites range from completely reconstituted lithologies, such as impact melt rocks, to fractured target rocks. They generally, but not always, contain evidence of shock metamorphism.



The cosmic projectile, meteoroid, asteroid, comet, or other celestial object which causes an impact event. The kinetic energy of an object of mass m traveling at a speed v is = mv2/2, provided v is much less than the speed of light.

Typical extraterrestrial impactor entering Earth’s atmosphere. Image from Igor Zh/Shutterstock.

[see – CRATER – size of METEOROID]




Kilobar, 1 kbar (1 kb) = 1,000 bar; unit of pressure, frequently replaced by the SI unit Pascal, Pa, and Gigapascal, GPa (1,000 kbar = 1 Mbar = 100 GPa). The hydrostatic pressure in the center of the Earth amounts to about 3,000 kbar (300 GPa). Shock pressures in the contact and compression stage of impact cratering may exceed this value.



The Kuiper belt or, sometimes called the Edgeworth–Kuiper belt, is a circumstellar disc in the Solar System beyond the planets, extending from the orbit of Neptune to approximately 50 AU from the Sun.

[see – OORT CLOUD.]


K/T boundary




Of a rock unit is a description of its physical characteristics visible at outcrop, in hand or core samples or with low magnification microscopy, such as colour, texture, grain size, or composition.



Geophysical method to measure variations of the Earth’s magnetic field related with rocks of different magnetic properties. Magnetic anomalies in and around impact structures may result from displacement of magnetized rocks in the impact cratering process, decomposition of existent rock magnetization (by shock, for example), and formation of new magnetic phases in rocks (e.g., by chemical alterations, by acquiring a thermal remnant magnetization). Magnetic geo-signatures are instrumental in identifying impact structures ie: Carswell.



Impact melt rocks are basically volcanic rocks, such as basalt lava, and they attest to the extreme conditions generated by the impact event. Pressures and temperatures in the target rocks surrounding the point where the asteroid or comet hits are so high that large volumes or rock can be instantaneously melted. Pieces of this melt can cool rapidly to form glass and be incorporated in suevites. However, sometimes, so much melt is produced that it forms a pool in the central parts of an impact crater to form crater-fill deposits. This pool of melt then cools slowly over time and solidifies to form a new rock, which we term impact melt rock. An impact melt rock contains only a few fragments of target rock, maybe up to ~25% fragments in extreme cases. If the melt contains a lot of fragments of target rock, then we term this an “impact melt breccia”. Impact melt rocks can be found in crater-fill deposits  and in ejecta deposits.

Shock pressures in excess of roughly 60 GPa (600 kbar) are required for total rock melts. Impact melts are extremely uniform in their composition but highly variable in texture. They are composed predominantly of the target rocks but may contain a small but measurable amount of the impactor.

The Manicouagan impact crater – 10 m block of mafic gneiss embedded within the impact melt cliff, north shore of Memory Bay.

Melt rocks in impact structures may also result from frictional melting in strong dynamic metamorphism





Rock that was formed by the recrystallization of a pre-existing rock in response to a change of mainly temperature and pressure (metamorphism). Metamorphic rocks are, e.g., marble (metamorphic limestone), gneiss, schist.




Incoming meteoroids enter the earth’s atmosphere at 11 km/sec to 72 km/sec. Ram pressure between the air and the object create a very high temperature plasma at the front of the meteor. This plasma becomes visible at between about 120 km and 75 km above the earth. Energy goes into melting and vaporizing stone and metal. Energy is shed as material ablates.  In a couple of seconds most meteors are have been consumed. The left-over debris is called meteoric dust or just meteor dust.

Perseid meteor shower. Most ionization trails become visible at around 95 kilometres up.







If a meteoroid’s size, composition, speed and entry angle allow it to survive  the “meteor” phase of entry, it will slow to about 4 km/sec and enter “dark flight” at 20 km to 15 km above earth. Light emission from incandescence and ion recombination ceases. The meteor will arch into a more vertical trajectory, slow to terminal velocity of  about 0.1 km/sec and fall as a meteorite.

If the meteoroid is of sufficient size to keep it’s hyper-velocity  >12 km/sec through the atmosphere becoming an IMPACTOR, it will impact the ground and explode.  The kinetic energy of an object of mass m traveling at a speed v is = mv2/2, provided v is much less than the speed of light.


“Shrapnel” Whitecourt Meteorite, an iron meteorite..







A meteoroid is a solid object moving in interplanetary space, of a size considerably smaller than an asteroid and considerably larger than an atom.








Synchronous impact of two (paired impact) or more impactors. A Late Triassic multiple impact has been proposed to have produced a chain of five large impact structures on the European and the American continents.

Compilation of selected terrestrial meteorite impacts during the Triassic and the postulated Late Triassic multiple impact theory, modified after Spray et al.(1998). Lucas et al.(2012)suggested an age of ∼220 Ma for the Carnian/Norian boundary, which has an age of ∼227Ma in the current International Stratigraphic Chart (Cohen et al., 2013). Impact age data from Koeberl et al.(1996), Ramezani et al.(2005), Schmieder and Buchner (2008), Schmieder et al.(2010).

Multiple impacts are observed also on the Moon, Mars, Venus and on Jupiter’s satellites Ganymede and Callisto.





The largest craters contain multiple concentric topographic rings, and are called multi-ringed basins, for example the lunar Orientale.

The Sudbury Impact Structure may be a multi-ring impact crater.





A sheet of rock that has moved sideways over neighboring strata as a result of an overthrust or folding.



Cloud of comets hypothesized to be the source of the long-period comets. Periodical disturbance of the Oort cloud has been proposed to be related with a disputed periodical increase of cometary impacts on the Earth (Shiva theory).

Visual representation of the Oort Cloud, which is littered with ice and rocks left over from the formation of the Solar System. (Image: NASA) The Oort Cloud is an extended shell of icy objects that exist in the outermost reaches of the solar system. It is named after astronomer Jan Oort, who first theorised its existence. The Oort Cloud is roughly spherical, and is thought to be the origin of most of the long-period comets that have been observed.



OVERTURNED STRATA (“overturned flap”)

Inverse stratigraphy at an impact crater rim related with the excavation process.

The high energy impact explosion, creating the Barringer Impact Crater, ejected large amounts of material out of the crater, in some cases preserving stratigraphic relationships. Notice that the normal undisturbed sequence has the Coconino (oldest) at the bottom, followed by the Toroweap, Kaibab and Moenkopi (youngest) as you move upwards. In the overturned rocks near the crater, this sequence is repeated above the Moenkopi, but in a reverse (overturned) order. The ejected and overturned strata extends 1 to 2 km from the crater.








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.




Peak ring craters develop within the rim of larger complex craters. The ring structure forms as the central peak collapses and creates a peak ring before all motion stops (Melosh 1989).

The 290 million year old Clearwater West Crater (illustrated to the LEFT) is  a surviving peak ring crater on this planet. The rim diameter is 36 km and the internal “peak ring” has a diameter of 10 km. An annular trough surrounds the ring.





Upon bolide impact, the passage of the resultant shock wave through the rock changes the structure of some of the enclosed minerals.

Shock-characteristic planar deformation features (PDFs) in a quartz grain (in distal ejecta from the Manson impact crater, found in South Dakota). Width of the grain ca. 100 mm. Multiple intersecting sets of PDFs are clearly visible (Christian Koeberl).
Planar deformation features, or PDFs, are optically recognizable microscopic features in grains of silicate minerals (usually quartz or feldspar), consisting of very narrow planes of glassy material arranged in parallel sets that have distinct orientations with respect to the grain’s crystal structure.





PSEUDOTACHYLITE (friction melt)

Pseudotachylite is formed by frictional effects within the crater floor and below the crater during the initial compression phase of the impact and the subsequent formation of the central uplift. It may contain unshocked and shocked mineral and lithic clasts in a fine-grained aphanatic [aphanatic = very fine-grained], crystalline texture matrix. (A tachylite is a black volcanic glass formed by the chilling of basaltic magmas.)

Sudbury pseudotachylite dikes range from veins less than 1 mm thick to massive zones measuring up to 1 km thick and extending for approximately 45 km. Formations of SB are found up to 100 km north of the SIC . The pseudotachylite here is injected into the pink gneiss country rock (the toe of my boot is for scale).
This example is from the Vredfort Impact crater in Africa where pseudotachylite was first identified.


RADIOMETRIC DATING Reports of the National Center for Science Education – Brent Dalrymple,



Rock that has formed through the deposition and solidification of sediment, especially sediment transported by water (rivers, lakes, and oceans), ice (glaciers), and wind. Sedimentary rocks are often deposited in layers, and frequently contain fossils.


SELENITE (hydrothermal)

The colorless and transparent variety of gypsum (calcium sulfate: CaSO4.H2O) that shows a pearl like luster and has been described as having a moon-like glow. The word selenite comes from the greek word for Moon and means moon rock. Gypsum is one of the more common minerals in formed sedimentary environments, such as tropical seas.

At Haughton, selenite was formed by hydrothermal activity associated with the impact event. The only hydrothermal systems active today are associated with volcanic regions (e.g., Yellowstone National Park), but it turns out that impact craters can also provide the two most important components of a hydrothermal system: heat and water.

The heat source at Haughton were the pale gray impact melt breccias which were originally at temperatures of >1000°C. As groundwater and rainwater came into contact with these hot rocks, these fluids were heated and circulated through the crater. Some of the target rocks at Haughton contained sedimentary gypsum, which was dissolved by these hot hydrothermal fluids. These fluids then migrated through the crater and re-deposited gypsum or selenite within cavities in the impact melt breccias as they cooled.



Shatter cones are a fracture phenomenon that is exclusively associated with shock metamorphism. The occurrence of shatter cones is the only accepted meso- to macroscopic recognition criterion for impact structures. Shatter cones exhibit a number of geometric characteristics (orientation, apical angles, striation angles, sizes) that can be best described as varied, from case to case. The apices of the cones tend to point towards the shock source.


Model for shatter cone surface modification: (a) offset shock front, generated due to host rock density variations, causes tearing in the out-of-sequence zone between leading and trailing fronts. The resulting fault transient evolves to a passive fracture as the trailing front passes through; (b) post-shock decompression leads to opening of the fracture.(Gibson, Spray 1998).

Distribution of shatter cones with respect to crater size and lithology suggests that shatter cones do not occur in impact craters less than a few kilometres in diameter. ( Baratoux, Reimold 2016)

Yours truly pointing our an in situ shatter cone within the Charlevoix impact crater. The hypothesis that the Charlevoix structure might be the result of a cosmic impact originated here in 1965 when this outcrop was first studied. These “in situ” shatter cones were discovered at this location when Jehan Rondot was in the midst of routine regional mapping in the Charlevoix region (Rondot 1966). He recognized unusual fracture patterns in a well exposed roadside outcrop and later learned from John Murtaugh (who was mapping Manicouagan at the time) that he had discovered shatter cones (Dence 2004).



Conditions of endogenic metamorphism and shock metamorphism in the pressure-temperature fields. This comparison diagram exhibits the onset pressures of various irreversible structural changes in the rocks due to shock metamorphism and the relationship between pressure and post-shock temperature for shock metamorphism of granitic rocks (modified after Koeberl 1997). For the formation of total rock melts, shock pressures in excess of roughly 60 GPa (600 kbar) are required.

Unique deformation effects occurred as changes in minerals such as mineral deformations and melting under the extreme high pressure and temperature (e.g., the shock pressure may be than 60 GPa and post-shock temperature may be 2000◦C). Quartz begins to convert to coesite (another polymorph or atomic-structural form of silica) at about 20 kilobars (that pressure is reached in the solid Earth at about a depth of 70 km (43 miles). Solids begin to convert to glass at 400 kb, to melt at ~500 kb, and to vapor (gas) at a megabar. Thus, the range of shock metamorphism is from 0.02 to 1 megabar – these pressures are known to occur in the Earth only in its mantle and core but the rock types affected by shock metamorphism are dominantly those of the crust where the natural pressure gradient achieves values less than those affecting shocked rocks.



Gneiss (pronounced “nice”) is normally a dark dense rock, but at Haughton, the gneiss resembles pumice stone – it is ash-white, porous and very lightweight. In fact, some of these fragments float in water! The reason why this gneiss is so light is due to the air spaces or bubbles, which formed as the gneiss was compressed by the shock wave, and then released. Certain minerals in the rock were also vaporized, leaving behind a porous ghost of the gneiss it originally was.

A foliated or banded metamorphic rock, which forms when igneous or sedimentary rocks are buried to deep levels in the Earth’s crust (up to several kilometers deep!) where they are changed by extreme heat and pressure.




Is an informal term describing a rock created or modified by the impact of a meteorite. The term encompasses shock-metamorphosed target rocks, melts, breccias, suevites and mixtures, as well as sedimentary rocks with significant impact-derived components (shocked mineral grains, tektites, anomalous geochemical signatures, etc).

TOP: The shocked Coconino Sandstone is weakly shocked sandstone (<10 GPa) that lacks remnant porosity and contains abundant grain comminution and fracturing. Note the "rock flour" on the shocked sample. BOTTOM: The unshocked Coconino Sandstone consists of a fine to medium-grained, moderately well-sorted, rounded quartz arenite with ~ 20 vol% porosity. Coconino sandstone layers are typically buff to white in color. It consists primarily of sand deposited by eolian processes (wind-deposited) approximately 260 million years ago.

TOP: The shocked Coconino Sandstone is weakly shocked sandstone (<10 GPa) that lacks remnant porosity and contains abundant grain comminution and fracturing. Note the “rock flour” on the shocked sample.

BOTTOM: The unshocked Coconino Sandstone consists of a fine to medium-grained, moderately well-sorted, rounded quartz arenite with ~ 20 vol% porosity. Coconino sandstone layers are typically buff to white in color. It consists primarily of sand deposited by eolian processes (wind-deposited) approximately 260 million years ago.




Literally, “iron-loving” elements, such as iridium, osmium, platinum, and palladium, that, in chemically segregated asteroids and planets, are found in the metal-rich interiors. Consequently, these elements are extremely rare on Earth’s surface.



A bowl-shaped crater having undergone only slight modifications of its transient crater.

Pingualuit Impact Crater, a 3.44 km diameter simple crater in northern Quebec.





Stishovite is an extremely hard, dense tetragonal form (polymorph) of silicon dioxide. It is very rare on the Earth’s surface, however, it may be a predominant form of silicon dioxide in the Earth, especially in the lower mantle.

Stishovite was first found in nature and named after Sergey M. Stishov, a renowned Russian high-pressure physicist who first synthesized this mineral. It is an extremely hard, dense tetragonal form (polymorph) of silicon dioxide (SiO2). At normal temperature and pressure, stishovite is metastable, as it will eventually decay to quartz; however, this phase change is slow enough that it has never been observed.

Until recently, the only known occurrences of stishovite in nature formed at the very high shock pressures (>100 kbar or 10 GPa) and temperatures (> 1200 °C) present during hypervelocity meteorite impact into quartz-bearing rock

Recently (2007), minute amounts of stishovite has been found within diamonds, and post-stishovite phases were identified within ultra-high pressure mantle rocks.

With a mass density of 4.287 g/cm3,  stishovite is the heaviest polymorph of silica.




Defined as a polymict breccia with a particulate matrix, containing lithic and mineral clasts in all stages of shock metamorphism, including microscopic impact melt particles.



Russian term for IMPACT MELT ROCK.



Area and rocks exposed to the impacting projectile, sometimes called country rock.



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.


Tektites often occur in so-called strewn fields, areas over which tektites with similar chemical and physical properties are found.
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)..
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).
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 (linked to the Bosumtwi crater in Ghana, West Africa)


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 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’.
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.



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Gareth S. Collins, Gordon R. Osinski, Jay Melosh; The Impact-Cratering Process, Elements · February 2012

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