Earth, Moon, and Planets

, Volume 85, Issue 0, pp 209–224 | Cite as

Craters On The Moon From Galileo To Wegener: A Short History Of The Impact Hypothesis, And Implications For The Study Of Terrestrial Impact Craters

  • Christian Koeberl


The origin of lunar craters has been discussed for centuries,since they were discovered by Galilei in 1609. The majority of researchers were of the opinion that they are volcanic structures, but a variety of “exotic” explanations that included tidal forces, circular glaciers, and coral atolls was also considered. The meteorite impact hypothesis had been discussed a few times, starting with Hooke in 1665, and formulated in more detail by Proctor in 1873 and Gilbert in 1893. However, this theory only gained momentum early in the 20th century, after the identification of Meteor Crater in Arizona as an impact structure, and after specific and plausible physical models for impact craters formation were devised by Öpik in 1916, Ives in 1919, and Gifford in 1924. Nevertheless, despite growing evidence for the interpretation that most craters formed by impact, proponents of the volcanic theory impact were still vociferous as late as 1965, just four years before the first samples were brought back from the moon. Important lessons could have been learned for the study of impact craters on the Earth, especially in view of evidence that large impactevents had some influence on the geologic and biologic evolution of the Earth.

History impact craters lunar craters lunar maps 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Alvarez, L. W., Alvarez, W., Asaro, F., and Michel, H. V.: 1980, ‘Extraterrestrial Cause for the Cretaceous-Tertiary Extinction’, Science 208, 1095–1108.Google Scholar
  2. Baldwin, R. B.: 1949, The Face of the Moon, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 239 pp.Google Scholar
  3. Beard, D. P.: 1925, ‘Coral Origin of the Lunar Craters’, Pop. Astron. 33, 74–75.Google Scholar
  4. Campbell, W. W.: 1920, ‘Notes on the Problem of the Origin of the Lunar Craters’, Publ. Astron. Soc. Pac. 32, 126–138.Google Scholar
  5. Dana, J. D.: 1846, ‘On the Volcanoes of the Moon’, Am. J. Sci. 2, 335–353.Google Scholar
  6. Fielder, G.: 1961, Structure of the Moon's Surface, Pergamon Press, Oxford, 266 pp.Google Scholar
  7. Fielder, G.: 1965, Lunar Geology, Dufour Editions, Chester Springs, PA, 184 pp.Google Scholar
  8. Gifford, A. C.: 1924, ‘The Mountains of the Moon’, N. Z. J. Sci. Technol. 7, 129–142.Google Scholar
  9. Gilbert, G. K.: 1893, ‘The Moon's Face: A Study of the Origin of its Features’, Bull. Phil. Soc. Washington 12, 241–292.Google Scholar
  10. Glen, W.: 1994, The Mass Extinction Debates, Stanford University Press, Stanford, CA, 371 pp.Google Scholar
  11. Glen, W.: 1998, ‘A Manifold Current Upheaval in Science’, Earth Sci. Hist. 17, 190–209.Google Scholar
  12. Greene, M. T.: 1998, ‘Alfred Wegener and the Origin of Lunar Craters’, Earth Sci. Hist. 17, 111–138.Google Scholar
  13. Hale, G. E.: 1920, ‘Lunar Photography with the Hooker Telescope’, Publ. Astron. Soc. Pac. 32, 112–115.Google Scholar
  14. Hannay, J. B.: 1892, ‘Formation of Lunar Volcanoes’, Nature 47, 7–8.Google Scholar
  15. Harley, T.: 1886, Lunar Science: Ancient and Modern, Swan Sonnenschein, Lowrey & Co., London, 89 pp.Google Scholar
  16. Herschel, W.: 1787, An Account of Three Volcanoes in the Moon, Vol. LXXVII, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, pp. 229–232.Google Scholar
  17. Hoyt, W. G.: 1987, Coon Mountain Controversies, University of Arizona Press, Tucson, AZ, 442 pp.Google Scholar
  18. Ives, H. E.: 1919, ‘Some Large-Scale Experiments Imitating the Craters of the Moon’, Astrophys. J. 50, 245–250.Google Scholar
  19. Nasmyth, J. and Carpenter, J.: 1874, The Moon: Considered as a Planet, A World, and a Satellite, John Murray, London, 189 pp.Google Scholar
  20. Öpik, E. J.: 1916, ‘Remarque sur le théorie météorique des cirques lunaires’, Bull. Soc. Russe Amis Etude Univers 3(21), 125–134.Google Scholar
  21. Peal, S. E.: 1886, ‘Lunar Glaciation’, Nature 35, 100–101.Google Scholar
  22. Pickering, W. H.: 1903, The Moon, Doubleday, Page & Co., New York, 103 pp + Atlas.Google Scholar
  23. Pickering, W. H.: 1920, ‘The Origin of the Lunar Formations’, Publ. Astron. Soc. Pac. 32, 116–125.Google Scholar
  24. Proctor, R. A.: 1873, The Moon: Her Motions, Aspect, Scenery, and Physical Condition, Alfred Brothers, Manchester.Google Scholar
  25. Schultz, P. H.: 1998, ‘Shooting the Moon: Understanding the History of Lunar Impact Theories’, Earth Sci. Hist. 17, 92–110.Google Scholar
  26. Shaler, N. S.: 1903, A Comparison of the Features of the Earth and the Moon, part of Vol. XXXIV, Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge, 140 pp.Google Scholar
  27. Wegener, A.: 1921, Die Entstehung der Mondkrater, Friedrich Vieweg & Sohn, Braunschweig, 48 pp.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christian Koeberl
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of GeochemistryUniversity of ViennaViennaAustria.

Personalised recommendations