A depression formed by the hypervelocity impact of a smaller body on the surface of a planet, moon, or other solid body in the solar system is known as an impact crater. Volcanic craters, on the other hand, are formed due to the internal collapse or explosion of the planet. Impact craters usually have a lower elevation than the surrounding terrain with a raised rim.
Planet Earth is home to some of the natural and strangest tourist destinations in the solar system. The Earth is perpetually bombarded with debris from space. Luckily on planet Earth, most of it burns up upon entering the atmosphere. As a result, we enjoy the night sky with a bright burning in the form of short-lived meteor showers. At times, the object can be large enough to survive the entering atmosphere of planet Earth. Therefore, when it hits the ground, it leaves a mark on our planet.
Top 10 Impact Craters on Earth
When the surface of a planet is hit by a meteoroid, it causes the surface material to be excavated. Most impact structures are circular excavated holes. According to the Planetary and Space Science Center (PASSC) at the University of New Brunswick in Canada, there are 190 confirmed impact craters on Earth. Our planet Earth has a habit of erasing the cosmic prints but still, there are several myriad visible craters on Earth.
1. Barringer Crater
Barringer Crater is also known as Meteor Crater. It was formed 50,000 years ago when a large iron meteor crashed into the Colorado River. It was 98 feet (30 meters) to 164 feet (50 meters) in diameter. According to the Lunar and Planetary Institute, it is located in northern Arizona.
According to the Barringer Crater Company, the meteorite weighed 300,000 tons and traveled at a speed of 26,000 miles per hour (12 km per second). When it hit the Earth’s surface, it exploded with a force of two and a half million tons of TNT. As a result, it whooped 175 million tons of rock.
2. Wolfe Creek Crater
Wolfe Creek Impact Crater is located on the edge of the Great Sandy Desert in Wolfe Creek Crater National Park in northern Western Australia. According to the Australian Parks and Wildlife Service, it was formed 300,000 years ago. The University of Wollongong, on the other hand, analyzed the radiation exposure of the crater rocks in 2019 and estimated that it was formed 120,000 years ago.
Wolfe Creek is the second-largest crater in the world. Scientists have estimated the dimensions of the meteorite from the collected fragments. It is estimated that the meteorite was 50 feet (15 meters) in diameter and weighed more than 15,000 tons. Before the crash in the Australian desert, the meteorite was traveling at a speed of 10 miles (17km) per second.
However, the impact crater had an impact of 2,890 feet in diameter and 196 ft in-depth on the Australian desert. The Wolfe Creek Crater is accessible by visitors in only dry seasons such as May to October.
3. Gosses Bluff (Tnorala)
Wolfe Creek Crater is not the only impact crater in Australia. Australia is home to the most impressive impact craters in the world. Gosses Bluff, also known as Tnorala has a significant scientific and cultural importance. It is one of the most studied impact craters in the world. This impact crater is sandwiched between the James Range and Macdonnell Range which is in the heart of Australia.
Those who wish to visit this impact crater must respect the cultural significance of the site. However, Gosses Bluff is not easily accessible because of the restriction by the Australian government. According to the scientists, Gosses Bluff was caused by a meteor traveling at the speed of 25 miles per second (40 km per second). The meteor hit the Earth’s surface 142 million years ago which was 14 miles (22km) wide.
Over the years, the original crater has eroded. However, the central ring of the hills has a diameter of 3 miles (4.5 km) which is still visible to this day. The impact crater was named Gosses Range by Ernest Giles, an explorer in 1872. He named the impact crater after a fellow of the Royal Society, H Gosse.
4. Lonar Crater
Lonar Crater is located on the Deccan Plateau in southern India. It was first identified by C.J.E Alexander, a British officer in 1823. Lonar Crater is a large meteorite crater that has baffled scientists since its discovery.
The crater is located in a huge plain of basalt rock left by volcanic eruptions in an area 65 million years ago. As a result, the crater was originally considered to be a volcanic crater. Now, we know it is an impact crater formed between 35,000 and 50,000 years ago.
Lonar crater is the only known impact crater to be formed in basalt. For local fauna and flora, the unique ecosystem is a haven. It is because the surrounding terrain is covered with trees, especially the low hills of the crater. Now it is home to various species of wildlife such as gazelles, chinkara, and peacocks.
5. Kaali Crater Field
Kaali Crater Field is where you can visit nine impact craters at a time. They are located on Saaremaa, the largest island of Estonia. The Kaali Crater Field is 11 miles (18 km) from the island capital consisting of one large crater along with eight smaller craters. The largest crater is 360 feet (110 meters) in diameter and 72 feet (22 meters) deep. The estimated age of the Kaali Crater Field ranges from 8,400 to 2,420 years old.
It is believed that the island was already inhabited around 1530 and 1549 BCE when the meteorite made an impact. However, it is still debatable that there is no evidence of the effect on the human population in Saaremaa during the meteorite impact.
Furthermore, bones of domestic animals have been found in the impact crater. There is a large stone wall built around Lake Kaali during the Common Era. It suggests that the area was used as a sacrificial site.
6. Pingualuit Crater
Pingualuit National Park is located in the heart of the Ungava Plateau. It is home to an impressive Pingualuit crater. This impact crater is filled with pristine rainwater which insulates the inlets of other lakes. It is 876 feet (267 meters) deep. The sediments of Lake Pingualuit were undisturbed during the Pleistocene Ice Age. It is a period that began approximately 2.6 million years ago and lasted till 11,700 years ago.
Pingualuit Crater is 2.1 miles (3.4km) in diameter and 1.4 million years old. It was first observed in 1943 when the United States Air Force plane flew over the impact crater site. Due to the remoteness, the expeditions were not carried out till the 1950s. However, the local Nunamiuts knew about the impact long before it was observed for the first time.
7. Tswaing Crater
Tswaing Crater lies in the urban area of Tshwane which is originally known as Pretoria Saltpan or Zoutpan. Tswaing Crater is one of the best-preserved craters in the world. The sediment deposits from this impact crater date back to 220,000 years.
Tswaing Crater is located in Gauteng, South Africa. The diameter of the impact crater is 0.8 miles (1.4 km) in diameter with a depth of 650 feet (200 meters). Visitors to this impact crater site can enjoy a 4.4-mile (7.2 km) trail along with a museum display. Also, there is diverse wildlife residing in the impact crater within the conservation area.
8. Nordlinger Ries
One of the impact craters contains a city within its inner ring. This city is known as Nördlingen. The full impact crater can be seen from a bird’s eye view. However, the inner ring is highlighted by the walls of the city. The rest of the impact crater has eroded over the years which is not visible immediately.
Nordlinger Ries is located in Western Bavaria, Germany. The diameter of the impact crater is 16 miles (26 km) with a depth of 660 feet (200 meters). The age of Nordlinger Ries is about 15 million years old.
It was believed by the residents of Nordlingen that it was a volcanic crater until geologists Edward Chao and Eugene Shoemaker visited the town. In the 1960s, with overwhelming evidence, Nordlinger Ries was declared an impact crater.
9. Roter Kamm Crater
Roter Kamm Crater lies in the rust-red dunes of the Namib desert in southwestern Namibia. It looks like a home on Mars. The Roter Kamm Crater is located in Tsau II Khaeb National Park, which is a mining area in southwestern Namibia. According to scientists, this impact crater was formed 5 million years ago. When it hit the Earth’s surface, it was the size of a large vehicle.
This impact crater has a diameter of 1.5 miles (2.5 km) with a depth of 426 feet (130 meters). Furthermore, the impact resulted in a crater rim of 131 to 295 feet (40 to 90 meters) above the plains. The floor of the impact crater is covered with a sand deposit of 330 feet (100 meters) thickness.
10. Tenoumer Crater
Tenoumer Crater is located deep in the Sahara Desert. It is a near-perfect circular impact crater. Among the geologists, the origins of the crater have been a long debate. Some geologists claim it to be the remains of a volcano but it has been accepted as an impact crater.
The diameter of Tenoumer Crater is 1.2 miles (1.9 km) with a depth of 330 feet (100 meters). The age of the Tenoumer Crater is 10,000 to 30,000 years ago. Due to its remoteness, it is one of the most difficult impact crater sites to visit. From the Mauritanian capital Nouakchott, it takes 11 hours to reach the nearest town of Zouerat, located about 124 miles (200 km) away.
Locations of Impact Craters
|Barringer Crater||United States||Coconino County||35°01′41″N 111°01′24″W|
|Wolfe Creek Crater||Australia||Wolfe Creek Meteorite Crater National Park||19°10′18″S 127°47′44″E|
|Gosses Bluff (Tnorala)||Australia||Namatjira||23°49′15″S 132°18′28″E|
|Lonar Crater||India||Buldhana District, Maharashtra, India||19°58′30″N 76°30′27″E|
|Kaali Crater Field||Estonia||Kaali||58°22′22″N 22°40′10″E|
|Pingualuit Crater||Canada||Quebec||61°16′39″N 73°39′36″W|
|Tswaing Crater||South Africa||Gauteng||25.4158° S, 28.1006° E|
|Nordlinger Ries||Germany||Western Bavaria||48°53′N 10°34′E|
|Roter Kamm Crater||Namibia||Sperrgebiet, Namib Desert||27°46′0″S 16°17′20″E|
|Tenoumer Crater||Mauritania||Western Sahara Desert||22°55′5″N 10°24′27″W|
Impact Craters – Biggest Impact Craters On Earth
Whether the size of a grain of sand or a mountain, impact craters are due to one of the hypervelocity stars in the solar system. On Earth, most of the impact craters are less visible because of erosion over the years. However, some impact craters are still visible and preserved by the government and other agencies. In ancient times, people had mythologies about these impact craters such as one about Lonar Crater.
Among the top 10 craters in the world, only Nordlinger Ries has a town within the inner ring of the crater. However, other craters are filled with rainwater, and sand deposits or have become a lake. Furthermore, most of the impact craters are home to unique wildlife such as ringtail dragon lizards, insects, and birds. Some of the impact craters can be visited by people but during specific weather. Also, impact craters have significant cultural importance to the locals which a visitor has to respect before visiting them.