NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – In Cumberland City, near the TVA Cumberland Steam Plant, the landscape looks to be filled with typical Tennessee hills. But some of them were actually formed by a meteorite that crashed into the earth over 100 million years ago.
Marvin Berwind is a retired geologist from the Tennessee Geological Surveys. He spent years studying the rock formations and hills at the impact site.
“The hill that you’re looking at (“central uplift” in the picture) is uplifted rock that should be 2,000 to 2,500 feet below us,” Berwind explained. “So that proves something catastrophic happened here. And what we think took place was the meteorite came in, struck the surface and exploded as it was entering the surface, and the sub-surface.”
And they have found pieces of rock called “shatter cones” that are proof that a meteorite hit here.
“All these points are aimed at the point of explosion,” Berwind noted. “This rock was turned into soup, and then it re-solidified instantly. These are unique to meteorite strikes…period.”
The meteorite created a crater four miles wide around the impact zone with a “central uplift” hill in the middle caused by the explosion and melted rock where the meteor struck.
In Jackson County, northwest of Cookeville, there is the Flynn Creek Structure, now covered in dense vegetation.
When you look underneath, the rocks paint a clear picture. Dr. Jana Ruth Ford, an assistant professor with the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Middle Tennessee State University marvels at its geology.
“Look how closely it resembles the Pythagoras Crater on the moon,” Dr. Ford pointed out. “You have the central uplift area. You have the terracing. You have the relatively flat floor.”
And then there’s the nearby Dycus Structure. It’s smaller, but only about five miles away from the Flynn Creek Structure. There are theories that they are related.
“As meteorites approach the Earth’s surface they tend to break up,” explained Ron Clendening with the Tennessee Geological Surveys. “And bigger fragments can fly off away from the larger body. And so, some have speculated that perhaps the Dycus Structure was a small flyer off of a larger object, the one that created Flynn’s Creek…or not. But I think there are some discrepancies in the age of the rocks there. I think they’re different.”
Dr. Ford says there is also a theory that Dycus was a “skip” of the meteor that created Flynn Creek.
And then there is the Howell Structure in Lincoln County. It is the least proven to be a meteorite crater, but many think it is.
“When Geologists looked at this, they said ‘if this was actually an impact site, it was deeper underwater, then say, Flynn Creek’,” Dr. Ford noted. And it’s highly eroded.”
So, with two confirmed meteor craters and possibly two others in Middle Tennessee, could this happen again?
Although NASA has mapped most of the larger ones, don’t forget that this meteor exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia in 2015.