Giant meteorite crater discovery off Scottish coast excites scientists

10 Jun 2019

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The site of an enormous meteorite strike off the coast of what is now Scotland has finally been located.

An exciting discovery has been made off the coast of north-west Scotland, as a huge meteorite – about 1km in width – has been found incredibly well preserved compared with those elsewhere on Earth.

Evidence for the meteorite strike was first discovered near Ullapool by scientists from the University of Oxford and the University of Aberdeen in 2008, but its precise location remained a mystery.

Now, in a paper published to the Journal of the Geological Society, a team has been able to not only document in detail the exact location of the site, but also confirm it to be a well-preserved crater. It is located between 15km and 20km west of a remote part of the Scottish coastline, buried beneath both water and younger rocks in the Minch Basin.

“The material excavated during a giant meteorite impact is rarely preserved on Earth because it is rapidly eroded, so this is a really exciting discovery,” said Dr Ken Amor of the University of Oxford, who led the team. “It was purely by chance this one landed in an ancient rift valley where fresh sediment quickly covered the debris to preserve it.”

To determine the location, the team combined field observations, the locations of broken rock fragments known as basement clasts and the alignment of magnetic particles. With these, it was able to gauge the direction the meteorite material took at several locations and plot the likely source of the crater.

Amor said that if anyone was around to see the original impact, it would have been “quite a spectacle” as the barren landscape would have spread rock and dust debris over a wide area.

It is highly likely that Earth and other planets may have suffered a series of cataclysmic meteorite impacts around this time with so much debris left over from the formation of the early solar system.

Not ruling out the possibility of a similar meteorite striking Earth again, the team said that an object of this size typically collides with Earth between once every 100,000 years and once every 1m years.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic