LONAR Crater - The third largest meteoritic crater in the world

Introduction:

We all have seen quite a few movies which depict that a gigantic meteor is headed its way to Earth. If it hits the surface it could wreak havoc and life would cease to exist on this planet. Thankfully these are only depicted in the movies and none of this should actually happen to our beautiful planet. Because, if it does, then there would be such severe repercussions which we can only imagine.

Well, it may not have happened in recent times but there are several places on earth where you can see the evidence of such an event. One such place is the Lonar crater. It is a meteoritic impact crater, created in basaltic rocks, in the Western Indian Deccan Plateau. Discovered by a British officer J.E. Alexander in 1823 the Lonar crater is located outside the Lonar town in the Buldhana district in Maharashtra.

Being of great geological significance, it is one of its kinds in the world, being the only impact crater to have been formed in basalt rock. Formed nearly 50,000 years ago, a meteorite of about 100 meters in diameter, weighing millions of tones & traveling at a velocity of 18 km/second hit the surface of earth creating a depression 1.83 km in diameter & 150 m in depth. The impact was such that it is estimated that the heat generated was equivalent to that of a 6 megaton bomb. The crater has now turned into a shallow lake as well.

Origin & Importance

The origins of this crater have not been without its fair share of controversy. Initially it was thought to be a volcanic crater when scientist G.K. Gilbert in 1896 showed its similarity to the meteor crater in Arizona, USA.

Since then Lonar crater has attracted many a scientists from renowned institutions/agencies from around the world like the famous Smithsonian Institution of USA, The Geological Society of India, the Geological Society of America etc. who have conducted extensive studies to determine its origin.

Being situated in the Deccan Plateau, which is famous for its volcanic origins, earlier studies in 1961 suggested to the crypto-volcanic explosion as the origin of the crater. But later studies conducted in 1964 by E.C. Lanfond & R.S.Dietz suggested that the crater must have been formed due to an impact thereby creating grounds for a Meteor Crater. Since the crater had a raised rim (almost 20m above the surrounding) & also since the surrounding rocks were dipping away from the crater edge at inclinations of 14-27 degs, two prominent features of impact craters, the basis was formed. Also the presence of Breccia (a rock composed of broken fragments of minerals) furthered their claim of the crater being a meteoric one.

Subsequent to this study another study conducted by Centre of Advanced Studies in Geology, University of Sagar, Madhaya Pradesh, India reported presence of glassy objects of varying sizes at the crater site. These glassy objects were formed due to melting and fusion of rock during an impact indicating that the crater to be a meteoric crater. Again presence of bressia was reported at the site. The study also reported the presence of broken and twisted plagioclase, feldspars & strongly oxidized basalt all strong features indicating shock metamorphoses associated with the rock receiving a hypervelocity impact.

Finally work done by the Smithsonian Institution along with the Geological Society of America & the Geological Society of India, the impact origin of the crater was established. They have also compared the Lonar Crater to those found on the lunar surface with similarities having being identified with the rock samples from the basalt basins found on the moon.

Crater & Mythology

Apart from the scientific significance, Lonar also find mention in our ancient scriptures like the Skanda Puran & Padma Puran. Mythological belief states that the demon Lavanasur, whose den was the present lake at Lonar, was killed by Lord Visnu and buried in his subterranean abode. The water of the lake is supposed to be the blood of the demon and the salt in the water the decomposed flesh. During the Chalukya reign in the 13th century, a temple of Lord Vishnu was constructed which still exists. There also are several other temples apart from this namely the Motha Maruthi (temple of Lord Hanuman – at Lonar the idol of Lord Hanuman is a piece of the meteorite itself with magnetic qualities), Gaumukh (the narrow opening of the stream which accumulates into the a pool and also further flows down to the crater lake) and Daityasudhan temple.

Present

Lonar also finds itself well endowed as far as the flora & fauna are concerned. Shrubs & bushes along the rim of the crater offer rich foraging grounds for the hundreds of gazelles & pea-fowls. This also attracts the throes of wildlife enthusiast who flock the region. The lake also attracts various species of migratory birds that make a customary visit every season. This has turned Lonar into a tourist destination with many a tourists flocking the place for a glimpse of this natural wonder.

Getting to Lonar

Getting to Lonar can be a bit tricky as the nearest airport is at a place called Aurangabad which is almost 120 kms from Lonar (3-4 hour drive). The nearest railhead is Jalna which is approx. 90kms from Lonar (2-3 hours drive). Buses also ply courtesy the State Road Transport Corporation (MSRTC) but it is difficult to find any luxury buses on this route. Best way is to hire a taxi/cab after reaching Aurangabad of Jalna.

Lonar may not be the most talked about or the most favored tourist destination, but it houses one of the worlds third largest meteoritic crater, a spectacular natural wonder among the only four present on Earth. The other 3 being; the Bosumtwi crater in Ghana, Africa (10.5km diameter; one million year old), the New-Quebec Crater, Canada (3.2km diameter, 360 m depth) & lastly the Ariozona Metoer Crater (1.2km diameter, 185m depth)

Lonar Crater
Lonar Crater | Source
Lonar Satellite View
Lonar Satellite View | Source
Lonar Crater
Lonar Crater | Source
Bosumtwi Crater
Bosumtwi Crater | Source
Bosumtwi Crater
Bosumtwi Crater | Source
New QuebecCrater
New QuebecCrater | Source
Arizona Crater
Arizona Crater | Source
Arizona Crater
Arizona Crater | Source

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