November 2022, First….
Hello, this is Larry Krumenaker, publisher of The Galactic Times Newsletter, The Classroom Astronomer Newsletter, and the once existing Galactic Times Podcast, one or more of which you once were, or ARE, a subscriber. As I wrote in the most recent TCA and TGT issues, I am premiering a new newsletter, a long-form single-article newsletter called The Galactic Times InDepth, a New York Times Sunday Magazine-level publication of articles on astronomy. In the regular newsletters, such articles would have to be done over multiple issues; in TGTID I plan one article per issue, and for the moment, one issue per month. Some issues may have audio files with them, of interviews. Others I hope to have guest authors (are you interested?). Some will be on topics observed in astronomy conferences, both science and sometimes education.
This first article is on what I cheekily call EarthX, Space Tourism on Earth. We all can’t go into Low Earth Orbit—but one day…perhaps—and then where would we go next? The Moon! Come, see its craters! [Can’t you just see the advertising now?] Love to. But until then, how about exploring them here? In the USA most of the dozen-plus are hidden in plain sight. Here ‘s a tour of one of them, and what you would see and what what you see means.
A future planned issue article will be on Star Trek astronomy.
Below is your preview of the article. If you like it, download the PDF, and enjoy your cruise on EarthX….
Dr. Larry Krumenaker
EarthX: Space Tourism on Earth
Dr. Larry Krumenaker
Once you get past Low Earth Orbit and space stations, where will the next space tourists go? To the Moon, of course. But what would be there to explore? Primarily the craters and their features. But until such rocket flights exist, and the cost becomes affordable, one can explore similarly craters here on Earth. Yet too few know where to go or what to look for. Here is one excursion in the Southeast USA that, a jump off an Interstate, makes a good weekend trip to learn about how craters were formed millions of years ago, what happened afterwards, and what can be hidden in plain sight.
Imagine, in the near future….
All you hear is your breathing in your space suit. You walk gingerly through the lunar dust and rubble, up a rocky slight incline, to the edge…of the lunar crater. The sky above you is dark and star-filled but below you is a gaping, hundreds of feet deep, chasm. Miles ahead is a jagged set of mounds in the crater’s center, rising sharply in the mostly flat crater floor, pockmarked with smaller holes and narrow, dry, crooked cracks. What appeared a sharp edge rim in the distance is actually a rapid curve, like some frying pans, and like that pan, heads left and right into the distance to a far distant, barely visible, meeting place. How to get safely down into the crater to explore that peak? That you have not yet figured out…
Alas, neither SpaceX nor Blue Origin, nor any other private space company, and not even NASA’s Artemis Moon program is yet contemplating lunar excursions for the common folk. Getting into Earth orbit, or a stay in a space station, is still not yet in the cards for us. But if Moon trips were a doable venture, what would you do there? By their sheer abundance, you’d go visit a crater! The things you’d likely most want to do would be to go right up to the lip of one of these cosmic holes in the ground and peer down into it. Or take a walk around its perimeter. Another interesting sight would be to climb down into the crater and head to its center and look around its interior in some 360-degree panorama, whether from its central lowest point on the bottom, or its central peak rising high. And if the crater has an elevated rim, climbing up there for the view in all directions would be so grand, too! What if the crater had other features, such as terraces along the rim, or ejecta or rays outside? These would be bear exploring, too, right?
Until that day happens, we’ll have to make do with exploring craters on Earth. In the United States, there are over a dozen astroblemes—star wounds—with visible surface structure. Some are dramatic, others quite hidden under modern landscapes but if you know where the structures are, you can visit and view them. Some have peaks. Some have elevated rims and flat floors instead of deep depressions into the ground. Some are mere feet in diameter, others miles across; some are obvious as craters, some are disguised as mere rolling hills or buried under forests or subdivisions.
In this first exploration, call it a tongue-in-cheek EarthX trip, let more than your imagination roam over one such impact feature, a crater hiding in plain sight: the Wetumpka Crater, in Alabama. Researched notably by Auburn University geologist Dr. David King Jr., it was created in a 100-foot deep shallow sea an estimated 85 million years ago. This 4.7- to 6-mile diameter–depending on where you want to draw your circle on the inside or outside of the rims, we’ll call it 5-miles for short–astrobleme has a not-quite-complete rim ring and a central elevation. Both were formed by the rebound of the Earth’s temporarily molten surface as the 1000-foot-wide (0.2–mile) meteor crashed into this Cretaceous sea. Any T-Rexes swimming within an area of about 4-5 miles farther out from the impact zone was likely hailed over with ejected matter from inside the Crater, evidenced by geological core samples; surface destruction likely ranged out another 25 miles, sea or no sea. Of the impactor itself, none of it survived, vaporizing upon contact and any remaining bits swept away by the waters.
Today, the sea is long gone, Alabama here is fairly flat, with only slightly rolling terrain, and so the Crater is a bit of an elevated, not a depressed into the ground, anomalous feature on the landscape. Furthermore, it is on the edge of a river once used as a somewhat major commerce corridor in days gone by, which has eroded terrain down nearby and revealed some ejected Crater material outside of the Crater itself.
How We Will Explore the Crater
Personal note: I enjoy getting to places where I can stand and see the history that happened there. As the author of several historical tourism books, I write to create walking, mass transit or driving trails so that others can follow the story to and at those places. I use the mileages recorded in my automobile to the nearest 0.1 mile, and use landmarks for finer precision since an odometer reading can be plus/minus that same 0.1 mile. Directions start from the nearest Interstate exit (or in this case, InterstateS; there are two here), and in the case of multiple trails, when possible, one local starting point we return to as our origin or zero point. All three tours below have a common point, though they all do not start there—where Wetumpka’s Main Street intersects US 231.
To follow along on the space tourism idea, there will be three trails:
- The first and grandest is the Wetumpka Crater Profile Tour. We start far out and come closer and closer, seeing the outer features and rim grow, climbing upwards on the rim until we can view across the Crater to the far rim.
- The second tour is the Wetumpka Crater Inside Tour, where we succeed in getting down from the rim, through Wetumpka’s southwestern side rim gap, and head to the area of the Central Peak which, while on private property, is quite otherwise evident. We can do as close to a 360-degree view as we can, including a very good look to the far rim, and some interior features remaining from the actual impact moment.
- The last tour, mostly to say we did it, is the Wetumpka Crater Circumference Tour, a drive around the rim.
Most of the stops we make are those that the Wetumpka Impact Crater Commission has created recently—with ‘billboards’ they call Educational Viewpoints–but some other sights I have added from my own driving and research. Finally, in order to make this a real excursion, I have added other sites and things one might do and see in the Wetumpka area, science-related and otherwise.
Following this excerpt are the details with driving instructions, photos, and details on the three trails mentioned above, several sidebars on interesting stops along the way, and an epilogue on other sites to see of science and historical interest in the area. The 18 pages are in a PDF you can download in a link below; I didn’t want to cram up your inbox on this first email posting!
Here is the 18-page story in PDF story for you to download, regardless of whether you subscribe….but I hope you do!
Space Tourism On Earth 986KB ∙ PDF File Download
I hope you enjoy(ed) this premiere issue of InDepth!
Thanks for reading.