Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Lonar Crater

The only impact crater on the earth in basalt rock

The Lonar Crater is the only meteorite crater
in the world in basaltic rock.
It is very similar to the craters on the moon
A large number of interplanetary bodies of all shapes and sizes are speeding around in space.
Thousands of such bodies enter the earth’s atmosphere and flash
through the night every day (they flash even during the day time,
but we can’t see them).

Most of them are quite small, catch fire, burn and completely vaporize in the earth’s atmosphere.
The trail of light they leave behind is called a meteor or shooting star.

Hardly a dozen or so weigh more than a kilogram.
They create meteorites.
Most meteorites fall in the oceans, deserts, forests and other uninhabited places;
and are not noticed at all.

The chances of a giant meteorite hitting our earth are extremely remote.
Scientists have calculated the probability as three in one million years.

In spite of this, large meteorites do hit the earth.
What happens when this happens?
The impacts create huge hollows or craters - much larger
in size than the meteorites.

And though even most Indians do not know this, India
has the world's largest meteorite-created impact crater
in basalt - in Lonar.

Lonar is a small village in Maharashtra about 122 kms from Aurangabad airport.
It has a unique natural feature - a huge crater with a salt water lake inside.

There are the ruins of a few
ancient temples inside the crater, a
live temple with a fresh water spring outside the rim, an ancient temple in the village nearby, etc.

And there are a lot of mythological tales.

The crater is inhabited by numerous species of birds, animals, plants, trees and aquatic organisms.
History of Lonar

Lonar Crater has existed since time immemorial.
We find mention of Lonar Crater in ancient scriptures like the Skanda Puran, Padma Puran and Aaina-e-Akbari.
Lonar even had a salt factory during the days of the Moghul Emperor Akbar.
Lonar was sort of rediscovered by a British officer, C J E Alexander in 1823.It was believed to be a volcanic crater.

In 1896, Grove Karl Gilbert, Chief geologist of the U.S. Geological Survey, and one of
the most respected geologists of the day, pointed out Lonar Crater’s similarities with the Barringer Crater in Arizona.
But Gilbert rejected the impact origin for both these craters.
He postulated a volcanic origin for both.

There were a few studies after that, but none suggested an impact origin for Lonar.
The exact mode of its origin remained a debatable issue for almost a century and half.
In 1952, in his work ‘Volcanoes as landscaped forms’ C.A.Cotton doubted the theory of volcanic origin because of lack of recent volcanic processes in the Indian sub-continent.
He proposed meteoric origin for Lonar Crater.

So the debate continued - whether Lonar Crater was an astrobleme (created by a non-terrestrial entity) or a geobleme (formed by terrestrial process on the Earth itself).

In 1973, scientists inally established the impact origin of Lonar Crater.
In 1996, scientists estimated its age to be around 52,000 years.

Barringer Crater (also known as Canyon Diablo)

The most famous impact crater on earth is the Barringer Crater (in Arizona)
named after Daniel Barringer and still owned by his family.

In 1891, Grove Karl Gilbert, visited the crater to determine whether it was
the result of a meteorite impact.
Gilbert considered two alternatives:
The crater could have been formed by a meteorite,
or It could have a volcanic origin.
He concluded, wrongly, that the crater had a volcanic origin.

Daniel Moreau Barringer (born 1860), a Philadelphia mining engineer, who had become
a successful miner, heard about the crater.
He postulated that it was an impact crater formed by a meteorite.
At the same time, he was convinced that a lot of iron lay somewhere in the bottom
of the crater which could be exploited commercially.
He and his friend Benjamin Chew Tilghman, floated the Standard Iron Company,
and secured mining rights in the Crater and the land around.

Barringer had to fight for twenty seven long years to get the impact origin
of his crater vindicated.
So great was Gilbert’s reputation that no one dared challenge him or his findings.
Not surprisingly, in a 1928 article, even National Geographic attributed the impact
hypothesis not to Barringer but to Grove Karl Gilbert.

Barringer was convinced that the crater contained 10 million tons of iron.
He calculated profit of $250,000,000 on investment of $500,000 and found a
number of wealthy investors to back him.

Work began at the crater in January 1928 with capital of $200,000.
By November, it was clear that the operations required further funding of $500,000.
At this stage, an astronomer, Forest Ray Moulton was called in.
He estimated the mass of iron at 300,000 tons - a mere 3% of what Barringer had estimated.
It was clear the project was not commercially viable.
The mining operations had turned out to be a disaster.
Barringer had lost all his fortune. Many others had lost too.

On September 11, 1929, the directors of the Meteor Crater Exploration and Mining Company called off all further operations.
Barringer himself died of a massive heart attack on November 30.
But even today, the Crater remains an attractive tourist spot.

What to see at Lonar

The Lonar Crater

· The Crater which is about 1830 meters in diameter and 150 metres deep.
· Such impact could have been made by a 60 meters long and 2 million tons heavy meteorite.
· The lake is full of very saline water. The salinity is increasing over the years.
· There are 14 temples around Lonar Lake inside the crater.
· The oldest temple is about 1300 yrs old and many of them are decaying.
· These temples were built by different kings of different religions at different points of time.
· A temple gives the mythological story of the formation of Lonar.
· The small Vishnu temple and most others in the vicinity have been constructed
in the Hemadpanthi style, i.e., without the use of any cementing material.
· Most temples are dilapidated and occupied by animals and bats.
· Lonar crater is surrounded by dense forests.
· There are many kinds of trees - custard apple, eucalyptus, lemon grass, bamboo, teak, etc.
· There are many kinds of animals – deer, fox, rabbit, langoors, mongoose, snakes, monitor lizards, etc.
· The many birds include peacock, black drongo, little green bee eater, shrike, pipit, crane, hoopoe, and pelicans.

Getting there

The nearest Airport is Aurangabad - 122 kms.

The nearest Railhead is Malkapur on the Mumbai-Bhusawal line, or Jalna 90 km away.
Mumbai to Lonar (via Aurangabad and Jalna) - 600 kms.
Lonar to Buldhana - 95 kms.
Lonar to Aurangabad - 145 kms. Accomodation

There is a MTDC Resort right across the crater.
Or you can stay in Aurangabad.

I have visited the place twice, and plan to go again soon.
Surprisingly, its location is not even marked on the tourist map of Maharashtra.
Visit this beautiful place.
Walk to the lake below.
See the age old temples.
Sit on the brim during sun rise and sun set
and see flocks of pelicans and other birds going
out or returning from their feeding grounds.
Visit the Gomukh temple on the brim
and the beautiful temple in Lonar village.


meenal vaz said...

A great article absolutely exhaustive wondered how much research must have gone into it to provide such indepth detailing.Its a delight to know that you have thrown light on a great historical place overlooked even by the dept. of tourism.Read couple of your other articles.Very well laid out presize yet differently informative mentioning historical,scientific and mythological connections.

Dr. Binoy Gupa x Chief Commissioner of Income Tax said...

Thanks Meenal
The deity inside the Gomukh temple is a Shivalinga.
Fortunately, I took some photographs.
I will email one tonight.
Binoy Gupta