Sky and Telescope - June 2018 - 19
A LL PHOTOS BY AU THOR; BACKG ROUND: N ATCH A 29 / G E T T Y IM AG ES
my taking a north-side window on
eastbound transoceanic ﬂights).
Sometimes all I see is clouds. But
very occasionally, I am rewarded
by the view of an impact structure
- a piece of terra ﬁrma scarred by
the universe, right beneath me.
Perhaps the easiest crater to
see is the most famous: Meteor
Crater, just to the east of Flagstaff, Arizona. It helps that this
part of the country is desert, with
often clear skies. The 1-km-wide
(0.6-mi-wide) crater actually lies
on an air lane, one of the regular
paths that planes are routed along.
Although that might sound fortuitous, it can be excruciating. I can easily end up sitting on the wrong side of the plane
to see the crater. Worse yet, I've ﬂown right over, straining
at the window to look straight down beneath the plane. But
sometimes there it is, an isolated hole in the ground with
a slightly raised rim. A good marker is the wiggly Canyon
Diablo nearby, after which the meteorites associated with the
crater are named. I have seen Meteor Crater while on crosscountry ﬂights (Baltimore to Los Angeles), but the best views
I've had have been when ﬂying out of Phoenix or Flagstaff.
Another southwestern U.S. structure is Upheaval Dome
in southeastern Utah. Again, this 5-km-wide structure, with
its distinctive rings of rock, can be seen from cross-country
rides (e.g., Washington Dulles to Los Angeles). Even if you
miss the crater, the beautiful upper reaches of the Colorado River nearby, with Lake Powell, buttes, and the strange
features called volcanic necks - created when weathering and
erosion eat away the rock surrounding a former volcanic
feeder tube - mean there's plenty of
stark geology to see.
The largest structure I've seen from
the air is the 214-million-year-old
Manicouagan Reservoir. Dammed
water makes the subtle topography
of this large, complex crater visible,
forming a 70-km-wide, ring-shaped
lake. In summer it's highlighted by
t CRATER FROM AFAR This view from
the southeast shows the narrow Canyon
Diablo in the foreground. The crater rim
and some of the rock layers needed a
little unsharp masking to bring out detail.
the contrast of the dark waters
against the trees around it, and in
winter by the snow on the frozen
surface, making it much brighter
than the surrounding forest (see
next page). The ring is even visible
in the in-ﬂight navigation map
display on most airliners.
My most recent prize is
El'gygytgyn. This mouthful is a
12-km-wide crater lake in Siberia that lies in an 18-km-wide
crater, visible as a partial ring of hills around the water.
Although ﬂights from the U.S. East Coast to Japan usually cross mid- or south Alaska and follow the Kamchatka
peninsula down, sometimes wind patterns force a more
poleward track, pushing planes to ﬂy just off the north coast
of Alaska and down across Siberia. I caught a distant view
once, but the contrast was rather poor and the perspective
too foreshortened to be impressive. On a recent trip (Dulles
to Tokyo Narita), however, I saw that we were going to pass
close to the crater - but I was on the wrong side of the plane!
Fortunately conditions were calm and the seatbelt sign was
off, so I could get up and look through the window in the exit
door on the other side.
So far I've photographed four craters from the air. I use
a small digital camera with a decent zoom, but modern
smartphone cameras are perfectly adequate. One challenge
is that views are often hazy; boosting the contrast later in
t METEOR CRATER This lucky near-overhead view shows the crater's square shape,
created due to weaknesses in the rock that
existed before the meteorite hit. The road
and parking lot of the visitor center appear
at the top.
u UPHEAVAL DOME The structure of
concentric rings formed as the rocks lifted
up beneath the crater itself, which has been
eroded away in the 170 million years since
sk yandtelescope.com * J U N E 2 018