The Ries Impact Crater
A vast, circular plain extends in the midst of the South German Scarpland: the Nördlinger Ries Bordered by a wooded ridge, it’s fertile greens have been settled on by humans for a hundred thousand years. Maybe as long, scholars had wondered about the origin of this geological anomaly. Stray rocks of strange composition pierce the top soil. Quarries reveal most ancient rock strata scattered, uprooted and displaced. A forceful event must have violently ruptured the earths surface long in the past.
Only in the 1960s it was ultimately discovered that a massive asteroid of more than one kilometre diameter impacted the earth some 14 million years ago. Within just ten minutes, it scattered the bedrock thousands of meters deep, forming a crater two dozen kilometres across, and erased all life in a radius of 100 kilometres.
Nature has since smoothed the fractured remnants of that disaster, covering the crater’s rims with lush forests and filling it with fertile soil. Yet the Ries Impact Crater still is one of the worlds best preserved ones. It allows to almost forensically compare crater formation processes on earth to other planetary bodies. Quarries open windows into the chaotic and complex processes after an impact. In order to identify similar aggregates on the moon, Apollo 14 crew members Al Shepard, Ed Mitchell, Gene Cernan, and Joe Engle received geological field training in the crater in 1970. The lore of NASA Astronauts visiting a remote countryside has been recounted countless times ever since.
But even 400 kilometres further east, the Ries Event continues to shape how locals relate to their “Umwelt”: A split second before the devastating impact, jets of molten rock were propelled far north-east bound. They showered an area spanning across present day Austria, Czech Republic and eastern Germany with frozen, spiked drops of greenish glass. These tektites are named “Moldavites” after the Moldova River, on whose banks they were first discovered.
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, these gems soon became sought after items in the West. All sorts of healing effects are attributed to the seemingly extraterrestrial gems. This demand triggered a veritable gold rush: each day at dusk, Moldavite diggers of all ages sidle into the South Bohemian forests. Their picks and shovels pitilessly trench one hole after another. Subsoil is thrown up on fields, trees are uprooted and toppled. The only way local lawmakers have found to oust the diggers is to issue rights to commercial mining companies, guarding their claims with fences and dogs. But not long after the machines quiet down at night, camouflage-clad shapes dart down into the pits. Soon after, muted scraping sounds blend into the rustling of the spruce forests.
Simeon Barber, Monica Grady,and Louisa Preston. ‘TN2: The Catalogue of Planetary Analogues’. Edited by The Planetary and Space Sciences Research Institute and The Open University, Concepts for Activities in the Field for Exploration, 5 December 2012.
Orthophoto: Google Earth Pro & GEODIS Brno 2019
Digital Elevation Model: QGIS & NASA SRTM Mission
Apollo 14 Training Photographs: Stadtarchiv Nördlingen/Fred Kraus
Dr. Gernot Grömer, Laura Kronenberg, Austrian Space Forum
Vít Kršul, Moldavite Museum Český Krumlov, Czech Republic
RiesKraterMuseum Nördlingen, Germany
Dr. Wilfried Sponsel, Stadtarchiv Nördlingen, Germany:
Prof. Dr. Stefan Hölzl, Zentrum für Rieskrater- und Impaktforschung Nördlingen, Germany