Middlesboro, KY is the only city in the US now known to be built within a meteor crater. William M. Andrews Jr., a geologist with the Kentucky Geological Survey, said erosion and vegetation have hidden most signs of the meteor’s impact. However, enough evidence remains, he said, to support the conclusion.
“You have the round shape, shattered rock in the middle and deformed rocks around the sides that have been bent, folded or shoved,” Andrews said. “That’s pretty strong evidence that it was a meteor impact crater.”
“Middlesboro is in this strangely round valley in the middle of Appalachia,” he said. “You don’t get round valleys here. It’s not normal.”
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The town (also spelled “Middlesborough”) was established in 1886 to exploit iron and coal deposits. The town’s founder, Alexander A. Arthur, apparently did not know of the crater’s extraterrestrial origin. Omni magazine listed the site in a 1979 article as one of the 15 outstanding craters in North America (there are more than 170 known meteor craters on the continent) and also as the most circular.
The Middlesboro Crater is located in the Appalachian Mountains, exposed to the surface, between the Cumberland Mountains and Pine Mountain. The theory is that a meteor more than 1,500 feet in diameter struck the earth here less than 300 million years ago and carved a hole approximately 3 miles in diameter, with slopes that rise as high as 1,900 feet.
As much as 80 percent of the meteor either was blown back into the earth’s atmosphere or disintegrated on impact, and life may have been destroyed within 50-100 miles of the impact. Geological maps indicate that the center of impact occurred where the YMCA pool is now on North 30th St, and that the crater perimeter ran through what is now 12th St and Cumberland Avenue intersection. Geologists believe that before the meteor hit, the area around Middlesboro may have been a wide plain, much higher than the 2,400 ft Pinnacle overlook at Cumberland Gap. Geologists say that rock formations in the area do not substantiate the theory that the Gap itself may have been created by the impact and explosion of the meteor.
sources: Kentucky Stories, by Byron Crawford(Turner Publishing, 2001)
Associated Press article in St Petersburg Times (Sept 20, 2003)
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