Eye of the Sahara

The Richat Structure in the Sahara desert of Mauritania. This structure is a deeply eroded, slightly elliptical, 40 km in diameter, dome. The sedimentary rock exposed in this dome ranges in age from Late Proterozoic within the center of the dome to Ordovician sandstone around its edges.

Initially interpreted as an asteroid impact structure because of its high degree of circularity, it is now argued to be a highly symmetrical and deeply eroded geologic dome. Despite extensive field and laboratory studies, geologists have found a lack of any credible evidence for shock metamorphism or any type of deformation indicative of a hypervelocity extraterrestrial impact. While coesite, an indicator of shock metamorphism, had initially been reported as being present in rock samples collected from the Richat Structure, further analysis of rock samples concluded that barite had been misidentified as coesite.

In addition, the Richat Structure lacks the annular depression that characterizes large extraterrestrial impact structures of this size. Also, it is quite different from large extraterrestrial impact structures in that the sedimentary strata comprising this structure is remarkably intact and “orderly” and lacking in overturned, steeply dipping strata or disoriented blocks.

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