Duane Hamacher a PhD student from Australia’s Macquarie University found an ancient meteor impact crater in a remote location of the Northern Territory by searching Google Earth and following clues from an ancient dreamtime legend told by the indigenous Arrernte people.
Mr Hamacher reported to the Sydney Morning Herald and other Australian newspapers that the Arrernte people’s legend about a star that fell into a waterhole called Puka in the valley where Kulaia, the serpent, lived – has led to the discovery of the ancient crater, which the research team he is part of propose to name Puka.
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Guided by details of the story, Mr Hamacher searched an area about 130 km southwest of Alice Springs, in the Finke National Park on Google Earth. He found what appeared to be a bowl-shaped depression. His suspicions were confirmed when he visited the site with a team of geophysicists and astrophysicists, who found evidence that a popular tourist location in the national park called Palm Valley contains the remains of an ancient impact crater.
“We found shocked quartz, which is only produced by a substantial impact and its presence in the rock samples and the morphology of the structure are the major indicators that Palm Valley is a crater,” Mr Hamacher said.
The ancient landscape around Alice Springs has preserved several impact craters, notably Gosses Bluff Meteorite Impact Crater, which can be seen from the ISS and is thought to be the result of a bolide impact 145 million years ago. Much more recent is the Henbury Meteorites field, a collection of over 13 small craters formed by a meteor breaking up before impact just over 4,000 years ago. Several tonnes of iron-nickel meteorite have been recovered from this site. And if you are wondering – Wolfe Creek crater, central to the plot of a misspelled Australian horror movie, is in Western Australia.
A date for the impact that caused the newly found Palm Valley crater has not been reported, but is certainly millions of years in the past. Although the local people could not have observed the impact directly, Mr Hamacher proposes that their intimate knowledge of the land may have led them to surmise such a cause and to integrate this knowledge within their local dreamtime legends.
Mr Hamacher expects more impact craters may be found in this way. “We found stories with descriptions of cosmic impacts and meteorite falls related to places in Arnhem Land – we assume there are more meteorite craters out there and science doesn’t even know about their existence yet,” he said. Mr Humacher is reported to be expecting to publish more details of this find in a future edition of Meteoritics and Planetary Science.