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.





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.





Bodies ranging in size from meters up to hundreds of kilometers in diameter that formed during the process that formed the planets by accretion. Most planetesimals accreted to form the planets. A rocky and/or icy body, a few to several tens of kilometers in size, that was produced in the solar nebula.



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,



The parent isotopes and corresponding daughter products most commonly used to determine the ages of ancient rocks are listed below:

Parent Isotope Stable Daughter Product Currently Accepted Half-Life Values
Uranium-238 Lead-206 4.5 billion years
Hafnium-182 Tungsten-182 9 Million years
Uranium-235 Lead-207 704 million years
Thorium-232 Lead-208 14.0 billion years
Rubidium-87 Strontium-87 48.8 billion years
Potassium-40 Argon-40 1.25 billion years
Samarium-147 Neodymium-143 106 billion years

The Manson Meteorite Impact and the Pierre Shale

In the Cretaceous Period, a large meteorite struck the earth at a location near the present town of Manson, Iowa. The heat of the impact melted some of the feldspar crystals in the granitic rocks of the impact zone, thereby resetting their internal radiometric clocks. These melted crystals, and therefore the impact, have been dated by the 40Ar/39Ar method at 74.1 Ma (million years; Izett and others 1998), but that is not the whole story by a long shot. The impact also created shocked quartz crystals that were blasted into the air and subsequently fell to the west into the inland sea that occupied much of central North America at that time. Today this shocked quartz is found in South Dakota, Colorado, and Nebraska in a thin layer (the Crow Creek Member) within a thick rock formation known as the Pierre Shale. The Pierre Shale, which is divided into identifiable sedimentary beds called members, also contains abundant fossils of numerous species of ammonites, ancestors of the chambered nautilus. The fossils, when combined with geologic mapping, allow the various exposed sections of the Pierre Shale to be pieced together in their proper relative positions to form a complete composite section (Figure 1). The Pierre Shale also contains volcanic ash that was erupted from volcanoes and then fell into the sea, where it was preserved as thin beds. These ash beds, called bentonites, contain sanidine feldspar and biotite that has been dated using the 40Ar/39Ar technique.

The results of the Manson Impact/Pierre Shale dating study (Izett and others 1998) are shown in Figure 1. There are three important things to note about these results. First, each age is based on numerous measurements; laboratory errors, had there been any, would be readily apparent. Second, ages were measured on two very different minerals, sanidine and biotite, from several of the ash beds. The largest difference between these mineral pairs, in the ash from the Gregory Member, is less than 1%. Third, the radiometric ages agree, within analytical error, with the relative positions of the dated ash beds as determined by the geologic mapping and the fossil assemblages; that is, the ages get older from top to bottom as they should. Finally, the inferred age of the shocked quartz, as determined from the age of the melted feldspar in the Manson impact structure (74.1 ± 0.1 Ma), is in very good agreement with the ages of the ash beds above and below it.

The Ages of Meteorites

Meteorites, most of which are fragments of asteroids, are very interesting objects to study because they provide important evidence about the age, composition, and history of the early solar system. There are many types of meteorites. Some are from primitive asteroids whose material is little modified since they formed from the early solar nebula. Others are from larger asteroids that got hot enough to melt and send lava flows to the surface. A few are even from the Moon and Mars. The most primitive type of meteorites are called chondrites, because they contain little spheres of olivine crystals known as chondrules. Because of their importance, meteorites have been extensively dated radiometrically; the vast majority appear to be 4.4–4.6 Ga (billion years) old. Some meteorites, because of their mineralogy, can be dated by more than one radiometric dating technique, which provides scientists with a powerful check of the validity of the results. The results from three meteorites are shown in Table 1. Many more, plus a discussion of the different types of meteorites and their origins, can be found in Dalrymple (1991).

There are 3 important things to know about the ages in Table 1. The first is that each meteorite was dated by more than one laboratory — Allende by 2 laboratories, Guarena by 2 laboratories, and St Severin by four laboratories. This pretty much eliminates any significant laboratory biases or any major analytical mistakes. The second thing is that some of the results have been repeated using the same technique, which is another check against analytical errors. The third is that all three meteorites were dated by more than one method — two methods each for Allende and Guarena, and four methods for St Severin. This is extremely powerful verification of the validity of both the theory and practice of radiometric dating. In the case of St Severin, for example, we have 4 different natural clocks (actually 5, for the Pb-Pb method involves 2 different radioactive uranium isotopes), each running at a different rate and each using elements that respond to chemical and physical conditions in much different ways. And yet, they all give the same result to within a few percent.

The 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.



Reidite is a rare mineral,  a dense form (polymorph) of the fairly tough gemstone zircon, which is produced when the latter is subjected to very high pressures.  Reidite has been found only in four crater impacts: the Chesapeake Bay Crater in Virginia, Ries Crater in Germany, Xiuyan Crater in China, and Rock Elm Crater in Wisconsin in the United States (Wiki).

Zircon transforms into reidite when meteorites slam into the ground because shock waves from the impact cause a dramatic increase in temperature and pressure at the site. The high pressures cause the building blocks of the mineral to rearrange, becoming tightly repacked. The resulting mineral is similar in composition to zircon, but around 10% more dense. Reidite can also be formed under high-pressure or shock recovery laboratory experiments. In fact, reidite was only known from lab-made samples for around 30 years before it was first discovered in nature in 2001 (Reidite was finally identified in nature starting in 2001, at three impact sites: the Chesapeake Bay Crater in Virginia, Ries Crater in Germany and Xiuyan Crater in China.).