Hoba Meteorite and Brukkaros Crater

Namibia is purported to have some of the most beautiful postage stamps in the world. But what’s more fascinating are the stories behind the artful images they depict—plant and animal life, traditional cultures, history and landmark events. Many people are unfamiliar with Namibia—until they visit on our motorcycle safaris and fall in love with her.

This month we explore a massive crater, and a mystery where a crater would normally be.

stamp hoba meteorite - johan van niekerk 1988 webIt’s been 80,000 years since a meteorite came to earth on the farm Hoba, 20 km west of Grootfontein in Namibia. But a sign on the road warns, ”Beware of falling meteorites!” It’s all in jest but these things aren’t easily forgotten.

In 1920, a farmer plowing his field came to a screeching halt. Curious, he began digging and discovered a very large rock. He scraped it with his knife and noted the spot where he’d scraped became glossy. He took a sample in to the South West Africa Company in Grootfontein where scientists concluded it was from a meteorite. Although excavated, the rock has not been moved from its landing spot.

It’s the largest single-piece meteorite made-up-of iron known on the surface of the Earth. Estimated to be sixty-six tons when it was discovered, scientific sampling and vandalism have reduced it to sixty tons. Based on the high amount of iron oxides in the surrounding soil, it was thought to be originally much larger, losing much of its mass to oxidation.

The rock is nine feet long, nine feet wide and about three feet thick. It’s composed of about 84% iron, 16% nickel, and trace amounts of cobalt and other metals.

The meteorite and the site where it rests are now a national monument.

Scientists have come up with a number of theories but remain intrigued that the meteorite did not create a crater when it landed.

stamp brukkaros mountain - ah barrett 1991 webOver at Brukkaros, it’s a large crater that’s the center of much study. Rising 600 meters out of the plain, the mountain’s diameter at the base is 10 km; the diameter of the crater is 3 km. For years many believed that it was an extinct volcano but the surrounding rock types didn’t fit the typical composition.

Further study determined the crater was formed by an enormous explosion.

Now rising out of the plain, the mountain formed 80 million years ago when the ancient supercontinent was in its final stages and South America was drifting away from Africa. The site where Brukkaros rises today was then below the earth’s surface. A series of upheavals and liquid magma movement created tremendous underground pressure which was ultimately released in an explosion.

Over a million years, water draining off the southern slope of the crater created a deep gorge which now leads into the crater via a hiking trail.

Dilapidated buildings are all that’s left of an observatory manned here from 1926 to 1931. Even less is left of a heliograph station installed during German colonial times as part of a chain of heliograph stations on mountain tops. They’ve been replaced by a transmitter on the crater’s northern rim.


Source: Stamps and Stories, Vol. 1, 50 Stories on Namibia’s Postal Stamps, Gondwana Collection Namibia, & NamPost, 2012.