Research ArticleGEOLOGY

Shatter cones: (Mis)understood?

Science Advances  05 Aug 2016:
Vol. 2, no. 8, e1600616
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1600616

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Abstract

Meteorite impact craters are one of the most common geological features in the solar system. An impact event is a near-instantaneous process that releases a huge amount of energy over a very small region on a planetary surface. This results in characteristic changes in the target rocks, from vaporization and melting to solid-state effects, such as fracturing and shock metamorphism. Shatter cones are distinctive striated conical fractures that are considered unequivocal evidence of impact events. They are one of the most used and trusted shock-metamorphic effects for the recognition of meteorite impact structures. Despite this, there is still considerable debate regarding their formation. We show that shatter cones are present in several stratigraphic settings within and around impact structures. Together with the occurrence of complete and “double” cones, our observations are most consistent with shatter cone formation due to tensional stresses generated by scattering of the shock wave due to heterogeneities in the rock. On the basis of field mapping, we derive the relationship Dsc = 0.4 Da, where Dsc is the maximum spatial extent of in situ shatter cones, and Da is the apparent crater diameter. This provides an important, new, more accurate method to estimate the apparent diameter of eroded complex craters on Earth. We have reestimated the diameter of eight well-known impact craters as part of this study. Finally, we suggest that shatter cones may reduce the strength of the target, thus aiding crater collapse, and that their distribution in central uplifts also records the obliquity of impact.

Keywords
  • Impact cratering
  • shock metamorphism
  • shatter cones
  • planetary surface processes
  • meteorite impact craters
  • planetary science
  • field geology

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