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Daniel Barringer

May 25, 2010

Geologist Daniel Barringer was ahead of his time -- but not by quite enough. As a result, one of the most famous landmarks in the Southwest is named in his honor. But that same landmark cost him a fortune -- and perhaps his life.

Barringer was born in North Carolina 150 years ago today. He earned a law degree, but he preferred the outdoors to courtrooms, so he later earned degrees in geology and mineralogy.

Barringer became a successful mining engineer in Arizona, and amassed a fortune.

In 1902, he learned of a giant hole in the ground east of Flagstaff known as Coon Mountain. Another geologist had concluded that the crater, which is almost a mile wide, was formed by a volcanic explosion. He rejected another idea: that the crater was formed by the impact of a giant space rock.

Barringer thought otherwise. Not only did he conclude that the crater was formed by an impact, he thought the space rock was buried beneath the crater: 10 million tons of iron.

Barringer formed a company to mine that iron. He began drilling in 1903, but a quarter-century of exploration found nothing but rock, water, and quicksand.

Other scientists accepted Barringer's view that the crater was formed by an impact. But they calculated that the collision had blasted the space rock to bits.

So Barringer's mining company shut down in late 1929. Barringer himself died of a heart attack less than three months later. Today, the meteor crater is named in Barringer's honor.

Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2010

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