Henbury Meteorites Conservation Reserve

Henbury Meteorites Conservation Reserve  contains craters which were formed when a meteor hit the earth's surface 4,700 years ago. Henbury is one of five meteorite impact sites in Australia associated with actual meteorite fragments and one of the world's best preserved examples of a small crater field.  The Henbury Meteor, weighing several tonnes and accelerating to over 40,000 km per hour, disintegrated before impact and the fragments formed the craters.

At Henbury there are 13 to 14 craters ranging from 7 to 180 metres in diameter and up to 15 metres in depth that were formed when the meteor broke up before impact. Several tonnes of iron-nickel fragments have been recovered from the site. The craters are named for Henbury Station, a nearby cattle station named in 1875 for the family home of its founders at Henbury in Dorset, England.

The craters were discovered in 1899 by the manager of the station, then went uninvestigated until interest was stirred when the Karoonda meteorite fell on South Australia in 1930. The first scientific investigations of the site were conducted by A.R. Alderman of the University of Adelaide who published the results in a 1932 paper entitled The Meteorite Craters at Henbury Central Australia. Numerous studies have been undertaken since.

The Henbury crater field is considered a sacred site to the Arrernte Aboriginal people and would have impacted during human habitation of the area.  Older Aboriginal people would not camp within a couple of miles of the Henbury craters, referring to them as chindu china waru chingi yabu, roughly translating to sun walk fire devil rock. An elder Aboriginal man that accompanied geologist J.M. Mitchell to the site explained that Aboriginal people would not drink rainwater that collected in the craters, fearing the "fire-devil" would fill them with a piece of iron. The man claimed his paternal grandfather had seen the fire-devil and that he came from the sun.

A story was recorded by Charles Mountford that attributed the largest crater's formation to an anthropomorphic figure tossing soil out of the crater, forming its bowl-shape. The story is considered "women's business" (knowledge restricted to women) so the details of the story are not detailed here.


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Australia's impact craters

It is estimated that each year the Earth receives about 100,000 tonnes of material from space. If this mass all arrived at once it would be a catastrophe! Most of it comes in meteor showers and is burned up by friction with air molecules in the upper atmosphere: a "shooting star" is a meteoroid either burning up or just grazing our atmosphere. These objects may approach Earth at speeds up to 70 km per second! The hundreds of impact craters on the earth's surface were caused by asteroids or comets colliding with our plant.

Around twenty four impact craters are known in Australia, ranging in size from less than 20m in diameter to perhaps more than 100km. Some date back hundreds of millions (even billions) of years. Others are as recent as just a few thousand years old. Most probably did little more than localised damage. At least two Australian impacts may have contributed to mass extinctions.

There are several features geologists look for when identifying a geological structure as that of an ancient impact. Most craters are circular in shape, with an inner ring of raised rock known as an uplift. The central uplift structure forms when the underlying rocks rebound after the impact, throwing up a central mound or ring of rock. Surrounding the uplift will be a depression that is usually several times larger than the raised area. In time the outer ring may weather away, leaving only the central uplifted structure.

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