Thousands of chunks of space rock hit Earth every day. Our planet is constantly in the path of small pieces of extraterrestrial material. However, thanks to our atmosphere, they quickly vaporize high up in the sky, without ever having the opportunity to reach the surface.
Nevertheless, there have been instances when these rocks slammed into the ground. One of the main reasons why they manage that is the size of the object. If they are bigger than a pebble, they have no time to vaporize as they fly through the atmosphere. Also, they hurtle towards the ground at high velocities. Due to high speed, they crash into our surface and create massive impacts. Those impacts later serve as testaments to the greatness beyond our borders that last long after the meteorite is taken away.
In meteoritics, the main rule is – the bigger the object, the greater the impact. Admittedly, most of the impacts that we included in our list are the result of asteroids, not meteoroids. It is virtually impossible to create such a crater with smaller objects as they typically vaporize.
Even if we do not, our planet remembers what happened through the years with impact structures. For several billion years, Earth was hit by thousands of meteoroids and asteroids. The largest hit was more than 2 billion years ago. Moreover, several subsequent impacts are thought to have provoked the extinction of large groups of animals and plants. Most craters are out in the open, but scientists are yet to discover numerous craters that are hidden beneath thick layers of ice or the oceans. Hence, here is a list of the largest meteor impact craters ever seen on Earth.
Top List of the Largest Meteor Impact Craters on Earth
The Vredefort Crater is the largest meteor impact crater ever recorded in history. The crater is around 300 kilometers in diameter, effectively holding the crown as the largest impact ever to be found on Earth. It is in Vredefort, Free State province, South Africa, being named after the nearby city where the crater is located. Vredefort is also the oldest crater on Earth, as it is estimated that the asteroid fell around 2.023 billion of years ago. Vredefort Dome is one of few multiple-ringed impact craters on Earth.
The Chicxulub multi-ringed crater was discovered in the 1970s. The story of Chicxulub discovery is quite interesting. Two geologists were mapping the area searching for oil. They encountered a south-facing arc that spanned 70 km – underwater. After they saw a map that was made earlier, they realized that there is a matching north-facing arc. When combined, the two arcs create a 180 km wide circle around the town of Chicxulub in Yucatan. Simultaneously, scientists were investigating a layer of sediment named K-pg boundary. The research revealed that the K-pg boundary is around 66 million years of age. Plus, they found iridium. Iridium on Earth is deep in the planet’s core and usually appears on the ground in extraterrestrial objects. By connecting these two, they revealed that the asteroid (approximately 10 km in diameter) slammed into Earth 66 million years ago. And wiped out the dinosaurs in the process.
This crater is very old. It is located in Ontario, Canada. Scientists that are working on discovering the full story of this crater believe that the crater shrunk over the years and that it was originally twice the size that it is now. The diameter is currently 130 km across, and it is believed it was 260 km across. The crater was created by a comet, not by an asteroid. In the 1970s it was verified that the basin originates from a crater thanks to geological research. When it crashed, the comet sent fragments and debris flying across the continent, some even as far as 800 km.
The impact crater Popigai in Siberia was created 35 million years ago by an 8 km wide asteroid. Immediately upon impact, the asteroid created a crater over 100 km across. As the area is rich with carbon and graphite, the pressure of the impact created diamonds out of graphite. Today, the area is a rich diamond site. The Popigai diamonds have uses primarily in the industry by the Russian government.
Manicouagan is also a multi-ringed basin. Furthermore, it’s a crater filled with water. Scientists have confirmed that Manicouagan crater in Quebec a meteoroid wide 5 km crushed into the ground 214 million years ago and created it. Today, Manicouagan is one of the most beautiful craters in the world, as well as one of the most preserved ones. What is interesting about Manicouagan is the water. In the center of the crater is an island known as René-Levasseur Island. The post-impact uplift of the ground created the island, leaving Mount Babel as the highest peak. Many believe that the Manicouagan crater is a part of a chain of craters that the fragments of a comet or an asteroid supposedly created.
The Australian Acraman crater appeared 580 million years ago. The diameter of the crater is 90 km (56 miles). By verifying the presence of shocked quartz and shatter cones, experts identified it as an impact crater in 1986. They found the debris from the crash up to 300 km (185 miles) away, with significant amounts of iridium. It’s a complex crater, meaning that its shape is not typically circular as with most craters. There are numerous surface variations in elevation around the perimeter.
Morokweng crater lies beneath the sand in the Kalahari Desert. It is not visible by the naked eye as it is deep beneath the sand. In 1994, a group of scientists started investigating the site and discovered that the crater beneath is 145 million years old. It is approximately 44 miles (70 km) wide. In 2004, experts found fragments from the impact at a depth of 2,530 feet (770 m) below the ground.
The eighth crater on our list is the Russian Kara Crater that lies in Nenetsia. Around 70 million years ago, a massive asteroid slammed right into Earth and created a large-scale impact structure. At first, scientists believed that the basin originates from former volcanic activity. However, thanks to Maslov, a Russian scientist who diligently worked on Kara crater, it was discovered that it is of meteorite origin.
Beaverhead astrobleme lies in the region between eastern Idaho and southwestern Montana. The discovered presence of scatter cones indicated that the basin originates from a meteorite crash. The structure is around 37 miles (65 km) in diameter. The impact occurred around 600 million years ago. In the heart of the crater is a city of Challis.
The Queensland crater Tookoonooka is not visible on the surface. It is buried beneath the sedimentary rocks of the Eromanga Basin. During seismic testing for petroleum exploration, the scientists working there discovered the crater. Its size is still in question, with estimations that it is within range of 55 km (34 mi) to 66 km (41 mi) in diameter. The age is also a matter of dispute, as it might be 122-123 million years old.
Meteorite impacts are a very interesting subject for research. Scientists firmly believe that, without craters and meteorites, we would not be able to analyze extraterrestrial as much as we did. Generally, the knowledge about space rocks would still be out of our grasp.
To help you out, we provided all the info about the massive impact craters we listed above. Below you will find a map of the ten largest impact craters that exist on our planet. Some are lying in plain view, while others are hidden under sand, ice, and water.
|Date of Impact:
|Vredefort||Free State Province, South Africa||2023 million years ago||300 km diameter|
|Chicxulub||Yucatán, Mexico||66 million years ago||150 km diameter|
|Sudbury||Ontario, Canada||1849 million years ago||130 km diameter|
|Popigai||Siberia, Russia||35 million years ago||100 km diameter|
|Manicouagan||Quebec, Canada||215 million years||100 km diameter|
|Acraman||South Australia||580 million years ago||90 km diameter|
|Morokweng||Kalahari Desert, South Africa||145 million years ago||70 km diameter|
|70 million years ago||
|Beaverhead||Idaho and Montana||600 million years ago||60 km diameter|
|112–133 million years ago||55 km diameter|