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Lonar, A Gem of Craters

Astronomy is as old as any science.  In olden days it was of  great  importance. Many ancient civilizations of old age like Egyptian, Chinese, Indian, Greek civilization contributed  largely.

In India scientists like Aryabhatta, Varahmihir contributed  largely  to  this old  science  of  astronomy.  The  King  of  Jaipur, Sawai  Jaisingh II  built Jantarmantar ( meaning  Instruments and  Formulae’s  in  many  cities  of  India  )  Instruments  such  as  sundials, an  instrument  used  to  determine  sun’s  altitude  and  position  of  equinoxes  &  solstices, an  instrument  which  measures  the  alt. and  azim. of  heavenly  body  to  high  accuracy .

India  is  also  very  fortunate  to  have  some  nature - built  structures  near  the  famous  Ajantha  and  Ellora  caves  in  India  a  small  place  called  LONAR  in  Buldhana  District Maharashtra  is  present.  This  is  a Meteor  Impact  Crater  which  has  salty  water  in  it.

Some  52,000  years  ago  a  huge  piece  came  from  the  space and  hit  the  surface  of  LONAR  with  the impact  of  6 Mega Tonne  bombs , creating   a  crater  of  about  1830  meters  in  diameter and  150  meters  deep.  Such  impact  would have  been  have  caused  by  a  60  meters  long  and  2 million  tonnes  heavy Meteor.

These  craters  are  caused  by  Meteors  which  are  lurking  in  the  space  and  crash onto  some  planets.  These  craters  are  very  similar  to  that  of  volcanic  craters . When  the  magma  from   volcano  flows  out, a layer  of  lava  is  formed.

The  area  in  which the crater  is  situated  is  a  plateau  ( Deccan  Plateau )  which  is  caused  by  volcano .  This  process  is  a  slow  and  very long one, but  the  crater  which  is  formed  is  just  40,000 to 50,000  years  ago which  cannot  be  a  volcanic  crater.  This  was  proved  by  Geological  Survey  of  India  and  Smithsonian  Institute  (America ).

A  new  theory  of  formation  which  was  proposed  was  of   vertical  subsidence  of  the  ground . The  LONAR   crater  has  water  in  it  is  the  biggest  meteoric  crater  which  has  BASALT  in  it  and  has  water  in  it .   The  lake  is  deep  and  one  cannot  make  out   whether  it  is  a  crater   until  one  comes  to  the  edge  of  crater .  The  crater  has  a  large  slope  and  there  is  a  dense  forest  in  this  region.  The  two  slopes  within  the  crater   out of  that  one  is  of  15 to  18  degrees   while  the  other  one   measures  of  30  degrees.  This  shows  that  it  is  a  Meteor  crater e.g.  when  a  metal  ball  is  thrown  in  sand  in  a  certain  direction  in  which  the  ball  hits  the  sand  gets  little  small  while  the  opposite   side  to  it  increases.  The  slope measuring 15-18° has a notch  through  which  the  meteor  came.   The  opposite  side  of  slope increases due  to  the  pressure  created  by  the  meteor  and   by the  remains  of  the  notch  side  blown  away .

The  water  in  the  crater  is  very salty.  It is 10 times saltier than drinking water (pH = 10.5 ).  Salts and Minerals like sodium, chloride, carbonates, flourides and  bicarbonates  are  found.  These  are  found  by  the  small  streams of  water  joining  the  crater.  Then  streams  bring water as well as salts and minerals with them.  But as this water does not drain away these substances get collected beneath the surface.  Some 4 years back , water from the Lonar lake had evaporated .  The villagers witnessed some crystalline form of these salts  and  minerals.  In  such  conditions  one  cannot  think  of  any  living  organisms.  But  microorganisms  like  Arthorospira  and  algae  are  found abundant.  We also found Spirullina, Closterium, Chlorella, Eudorina and Ankistrodesmus in the water.  Various bacteria’s are also presnt.Algaes are found in abundant near the sides of lake.Distinct layers of  Dried  Algae, Green  Algae and Newly forming Algae are seen . 

The detail study  of Lonar crater gave the following results and most of them proved that this was indeed a meteor impact crater.  Detail study and drill holes dug by Geological  Survey  Of  India and Smithsonian Institute.  The Lonar crater has been proved to be caused by an aerolite meteor ( it contains mainly rocky material ) because no metal fragments have been found strewn around the crater.  Unlike volcanic crater, meteor craters show signs of being subjected to severe shock waves.  As a result  of impact of meteorite and the shock , rocks at the surface undergo change (impact or shock metamorphism ).  The impact also produces high temperatures  and  pressures, certain  new  minerals  are  formed , often  rocks  are  get  melted  and turn  into  a  glassy  material .  These  materials  would  be  naturally scattered  around   the  crater .

The drill  hole  come  across  sediments  coarse  breccia  glass and then  bedrock  (The  rocks  which  are  broken  into  small  angular  fragments  when  consolidated  are  known  as  BRECCIA ).

Samples  drilled  form  a  large  brought  forth MASKELNITE  a  glass  like  mineral , MASKELNITE  is  not  found  in  the  natural  form  on  the  Earth  but  laboratory  experiments  have  shown  that  it  is  produced  when  plagioclase  felspar ( a  common  rock  -  forming  mineral ) is subjected to a  shock .

MASKELNITE   was  found  in  coarse  BRECCIA  with  small  conical  shaped  stone  &  micro  BRECCIA  with moderately shocked  fragments  in  the  drill  holes .

The  Lonar  lake  can  be   compared  with  craters on moon.  Specimens of stone brought by Apollo astronauts are very similar to that of found in Lonar .Microbreccia, Glass Beads and brown spherules of Lonar resemble to that of  craters on Moon.

During the formation of Lonar lake the meteor broke into three pieces forming 3 craters.  One  known as Lonar and other two known as Ganesh Lake and Ambar Lake.  These both have dried up  and are not of much interest .

Lonar Lake is surrounded by many temples, about 14 temples are situated within the slope of Lonar.  The oldest temple is some 1300 yrs old and many of them have fallen before.  These temples are built by different kings of different religions.  A temples has sculpture which tells about the  formation of Lonar.  A demon named Lavanasur  had caused trouble on earth, earth requested Lord Vishnu to kill the demon.  Lord said that  while killing  the demon  he might destroy the earth.  So he takes the form of a child and  kills  the demon.  The demon goes deep into earth and dies.  The name of the demon Lavanasur in Sanskrit language means  ' salt  ‘ .  A hole was formed where later on  lake was formed.  This salty lake came to be known as Lonar ( or Lavanar - Demon  Lavanasur ). During Holy  Festivals people come in number of thousands  to visit a temple where rituals take place.  The temple is  about 20-25 Mts. away from the  Lonar Lake, people coming here throw plastic wastes and food stuffs near to the temple.  Many people take bath in Lonar Lake polluting the lake.  Many skin diseases are cured by this water .  Other temples which are now in forests have been occupied by animals and bats . 

Lonar crater is surrounded by dense forests.  Many trees are found, birds such as Peacock, Black Drongo, Little Green Bee Eater, Shrike, Pipit, Crane, Hoopoe, etc. are found.  Rabbit, Deer , Snake are seen here.  Trees of Custard Apple,  Eucalyptus, Lemon grass, Bamboo, Teak, and many trees were seen .  It is a place with  Rich ‘Bio-Diversity. ’ 

The crater  has now world -wide recognition, few years ago plans of building a Hotel were made but they were rejected as they  were considered to be harmful for the crater.  Anyone can enter the lake and damage it, no security  system is present.  Farming is done near the crater causing considerable damage to the soil .  Fertilizers mix with Lonar water as small streams meet this lake.  The city development taking place is approaching towards  the lake.  Plastic wastes are put by people visiting the temples within the lake.  The main threat is possessed  by a lake placed in the village near to Lonar.  The water from the lake situated in village evaporates and  much of it goes in the crater, water seeps through soil and reaches Lonar crater.  This results in increasing height of Lonar and  losing its salinity. 

This crater has a great importance in Geology and Astronomy. This place has to be saved and preserved.  Indians have started looking into this matter which has to be more focussed and sharp.  But it is important visiting and studying this crater for a astronomy lovers.
                                                                                                       --Rohit Babar