Wabar Meteorite Crater Impactite History

The Wabar meteorite broke into at least 3 fragments during its fiery descent to Saudi Arabia's unforgiving desert sands of the Empty Quarter, or Rub' al Kahli. Considered to be one of the most desolate places on earth, it is the second largest sand desert in the world, covering over 250,000 square miles. Monster sand dunes, some as high as 850 feet, constantly shift, creating an ever-changing terrain. 

In the midst of those sand dunes, the Wabar iron meteorite impacted, and formed at least 3 craters, the largest of the which is 116 meters in diameter. Estimates of the impact date range from less than 250 years to over a thousand years ago. From studies done, the impactor came out of the northwest at a shallow angle and meteorite impact material is strewn around the craters, larger pieces typically closer, fading to smaller pieces further afield. 

The first European to visit the site, John Philby, was on the hunt for the lost city of Ubar, rumored to be a city demolished by a fiery wind or a divine shout. One impact product, Wabar pearls - delicate, black, glass droplets the size of BBs and similar in appearance to pearl, are said to be the result of the necklaces of the fleeing female occupants breaking and scattering the pearls in the desert sands. The pearls are actually delicate splash material droplets.

When Philby arrived at the Wabar Craters in 1932, after almost a month of difficult traveling, he was exceptionally disappointed not to have found the ruined city of Ubar and wrote: 

"A work of God not man. I knew not whether to laugh or cry, but I was strangely fascinated by a scene that had shattered the dream of years. So that was Wabar! A volcano in the desert! and on it build the story of a city destroyed by fire from heaven for the sins of its King. He had waxed wanton with his horses and eunuchs and concubines in an earthly paradise until the wrath came upon him with the west wind and reduced the scene of his riotous pleasures to ashes and desolation!"

The Philby team found one "rabbit-sized" iron meteorite, which they returned for analysis. He located 2 distinct craters filled with sand and three other possible craters almost completely covered with sand.

Limited scientifically-documented exploration of the craters has occurred since then; a visit in 1937 by Aramco (Saudi Arabian Oil Company) geologists, in 1966 by National Geographic and Aramco, during which time two meteorites were located; in particular the "Camel's Hump", a 4 foot oriented iron meteorite weighing 2,045 kilograms. In 1982, by Aramco employee, during which time it was noted the craters were more completely buried by sand. And 1994 -1995, 3 separate trips by Zahid Tractor Corporation, one of which Gene Shoemaker joined. That particular trip resulted in an excellent article "The Day the Sands Caught Fire" by Jeffrey Wynn and Gene Shoemaker, a study of the craters and resulting impactite.

There are 3 other expeditions, not noted in the record books, that occurred to the Wabar craters. I was fortunate enough to recently meet an American who worked in Saudi Arabia for 30 years and visited the craters 3 times in the 1990s, accompanied by his wife and family (they tried a 4th but had to turn around without making it to the craters.). Photos of his travels reveal a stark, reddish sea of sand, stuck vehicles, and two rather small craters with impactite material on the rims. It was an honor and a pleasure to meet this man and his wife, hear his stories, and see these photos. He mentioned the craters were filled in more and more over the years and the challenges of getting to the site. I've included a few of his photos in this post. The material collected by this gentleman and his family is the material available on this website.