Makhtesh is the Hebrew name for a crater, a unique geological phenomenon, created during a period over millions of years due to erosion and winding. There are five such craters in the Negev Desert and makhtesh Ramon is the largest at 5.5 miles wide, 24 miles long and 1650 feet (500 m) deep.
Makhtesh Ramon is surrounded by vertical magmatic walls, almost 1000 feet high. These rock walls are called dikes which were formed from fractures of preexisting rock. The crater is the result of raising rock formations that cracked and water seeped in followed by erosion of softer inner rock layers. A cavity gradually appeared and with time, the thin upper layer fell in creating a crater. Over millions of years, it has been washed by seasonal flash floods which have widened and deepened the crater.
Until 1994, there was mining of minerals such as clay, sand and gypsum in Makhtesh Ramon. The government of Israel declared Makhtesh Ramon National Park in 1998 and all industrial activity was discontinued.
There is an observation point from Mitzpe Ramon (a small town), the highest point of the Negev Desert at 4330 feet above sea level which provides a spectacular view. Right on the edge of this point is the Museum dedicated to Israel's first and only astronaut, Colonel Ilan Ramon.
He was an Israeli Air Force combat pilot and the payload specialist aboard the American space shuttle Columbia which was launched on January 16, 2003. The crew of 7 was tragically killed on February 1, 2003, when Columbia broke up upon reentry into the atmosphere over Texas, along its return flight path towards Kennedy Space Center in Florida.