[meteorite-list] Town's Claim To Fame Blown In Wind (Misidentified Crater)

From: Ron Baalke <baalke_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Thu Apr 22 09:47:09 2004
Message-ID: <200111081826.KAA16191_at_zagami.jpl.nasa.gov>


Town's claim to fame blown in wind
Lincoln Journal Star (Nebraska)
November 8, 2001

Nearly 20 years ago, Merna was proclaimed the richest town in Nebraska.

Months later, residents were told that was not so. The Census people had
made a mistake and entered the wrong information into a computer. Merna's
claim to fame vanished.

Nearly 10 years ago, Merna had a second chance when a team of University of
Kansas geologists announced the nearly milewide depression outside of town -
with corn growing in it - had been caused by a big meteorite.

Finally, here was something to put Merna, a central Nebraska town with a
population of 377, on the map. A big crater could draw thousands of
visitors. Residents even held a Merna Crater Days celebration.

But the bubble burst this week when three University of Nebraska-Lincoln
scientists, Jim Swinehart, Mark Kuzila and Joe Mason, announced that the
nearly milewide depression about 10 miles southwest of Merna, was just
another hole in the ground.

They say the Bartak Depression, named for the family on whose Custer County
land it is located, was created thousands of years ago, most likely by wind
and not by a giant meteorite.

Frank Bartak, whose family still owns the land, said he wasn't surprised by
the findings.

"I dug around it (the depression) all my life when I was a young man. We
farmed it and I dug an irrigation well on it," he said. "My family never
believed it from day one."

He said the town won't lose much in tourist dollars.

"I don't think it means anything for the town one way or another, because
there wasn't any money spent," he said. "A few people come by and want to
know where it was and look around. But it's not very famous."

The UNL research counters the conclusions of KU researchers, who in 1992
said the depression, which they renamed the Merna Crater, likely was created
by the explosion of a large meteorite with the force of several hydrogen
bombs between 3,000 and 500 years ago.

The KU team's conclusion caused a media stir and some skepticism among
scientists at the time because it challenged existing timetables on
meteorite impacts, including the likelihood of future impacts.

Swinehart and others, including retired UNL geologist Vern Souders, who grew
up in the Merna area, also were among the biggest skeptics.

"Vern knew there were all types of depressions in those tablelands,"
Swinehart said. "If you were going to call one a crater, you would have to
call all of them craters."

So in 1998, the UNL researchers began drilling deep test holes in the crater
to find out once and for all what caused the big depression. What they
discovered was that the "crater" had the same origin as similar, though less
impressive, depressions in the region: Relentless winds scoured out hollows
during very dry periods thousands of years ago.

"There was never any doubt in our minds that this was not an impact site,"
Swinehart said Wednesday.

The UNL team reported its findings this week at the annual meeting of the
Geological Society of America, the same organization that initially heard
the KU team's conclusions nine years ago.

"This is the kind of thing that makes scientists either salivate or froth at
the mouth," Swinehart said of the meteorite theory. "But it just isn't so."

The KU researchers' findings were based on relatively shallow drilling that
turned up microscopic metal-rich fragments and glass shards they said were
unusual for the region and pointed to a meteorite origin.

But the Nebraska team's more extensive drilling, 200 to 400 feet deep,
failed to turn up the debris around the rim of the crater or the dramatic
deformation and compression of underlying sediments that a meteorite would
have caused.

For now, Swinehart says the wind theory is just that - a theory.

"We can't really explain how it was formed," he said. "The main thing we can
say is: It's definitely not related to any impact. It's a meteor-wrong not a

Reach Al J. Laukaitis at 473-7243 or alaukaitis_at_journalstar.com.
Received on Thu 08 Nov 2001 01:26:30 PM PST

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