Mahuika

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Science And The Sea On A NZ Meteor Impact

By Damond Benningfield

More than five centuries ago, powerful tsunamis roared across parts of New Zealand, Australia, and surrounding islands — waves that reached hundreds of feet up the mountainsides. Native peoples abandoned these regions, and legends of island-killing waves were born.

Some researchers say these events could have had a single cause: an asteroid or comet a third of a mile wide slamming into the Pacific Ocean.

The idea was born in 2003, when researchers discovered an impact crater on the sea floor near New Zealand. They named it Mahuika after a native god of fire. The crater is a dozen miles across and about 500 feet deep.

The sea floor around Mahuika is littered with beads of glass formed in a giant impact. They’re not covered by silt, so they must have formed fairly recently. Other tests seem to confirm the age of the crater at more than 500 years — a rough match to the age of the tsunamis.

In one area of Australia, beach sand from the tsunamis has been found about 400 feet above sea level. And on an island near New Zealand, the waves carried sand up to 700 feet above sea level. Even the most powerful earthquakes can’t create such monster waves.

Finally, native legends talk not only of the waves but of fire from the sky — the possible mark of a comet or asteroid blazing through the atmosphere.

Not all scientists agree that a collision is responsible for this tsunamis — they argue for volcanic activity. Even so, it’s possible that long-ago villages were wiped out by fire from the sky.

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