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SYFY WIRE Bad Astronomy


By Phil Plait

50,000 years ago, a chunk of iron 30 or more meters across slammed into the Arizona desert at a speed dozens of times faster than a rifle bullet. The ensuing explosion was equivalent to the detonation of million of tons of TNT, and in seconds it carved out a hole in the ground 1200 meters (3900 feet) across and 170 meters (560 feet) deep.

We now call that impact site Meteor Crater, or more formally Barringer Crater, and itâs a tourist attraction located about 25 km west of Winslow, Arizona*. I visited there many years ago, and stood there on the rim, slack-jawed, in awe of the formation I was seeing, visualizing the enormous impact event in my mind.

Since then Iâve seen countless pictures of the crater, but in none of them have I ever seen this:

Do you see it? The shadow of the crater rim looks like a face in profile, looking left. The top of an old, closed mine shaft even looks like an eye!

The photographer, Tomas Vorobjov, alerted me to it, even noting how much it looks like the King of Diamonds. I have to agree; a little Photoshop should make it obvious.

Ha! I love pareidolia: the psychological effect of seeing faces in unrelated patterns. This is a great one, and by great I mean huge. That shadow is a thousand meters long!

Iâm rather glad that when I stood there, all those years ago, I wasnât standing where Vorobjov did, and the Sun was at a different angle in the sky. I wouldâve ruined the moment laughing out loud had I seen that. Of course, it wouldâve been pretty cool to see it with my own eyes, too.

But thereâs no use regretting it. We all have to face the cards weâre dealt.

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