When a meteor, asteroid or comet thumps into our fragile planet, there’s going to be a imprint left behind. An impact crater is generally a geological feature that has been caused by a heavy impact on the earth. Usually what is left behind after such events consists of a circular crater on the ground which is generally lower than the surrounding terrain as it has been forced downwards severely. Often, these impact craters are stark reminders that the solar system can be a dangerous and hard-hitting minefield that every now and again can damage the earth. Luckily, all of the huge impact craters on our list fell millions upon millions of years ago before human existence as we know it. As well as being daunting in their size and history, an impact crater can be breath-taking and become a tourist attraction for local areas. Only 120 recognised impact craters exist today and here are the 10 largest:
10. 'Kara', Russia - 65km diameter
Located in north-western Russia on the Yugorsky Peninsula, the Kara crater is around 70 million years old. Kara is one of the many craters that have been greatly eroded over time and it is thought that at one time the crater would have been around 120km in diameter.
9. 'Morokweng', South Africa - 70km diameter
Approximately 145 million years ago a huge asteroid smashed into the Kalahari Desert in South Africa. The crater isn’t exposed to the surface of the earth, buried deep under the desert sand and could only be discovered following magnetic mapping and gravimetric surveys. Not all of the original asteroid had vaporised as discovered in 2006 when a 25cm diameter rock from the asteroid was uncovered.
8. 'Puchezh-Katunki', Russia - 80km diameter
A meteor crater in south-west Russia, the Puchezh Katunki is a young impact crater in comparison to others of its type. Thought to be 167 million years old the meteor is thought to have hit during the middle Jurassic period. Buried under ground, today the only signs of the crater can be seen on through meteor rock on the banks of the River Volga.
7. 'Acraman', Australia - 90km diameter
The estimated diameter of 90km is disputed amongst scientist and is not known for sure due to the extensive erosion on the crater during its 580 million year existence. 300km east of the crater there appears to be a layer of ejected rock and minerals that is thought to have been from the original asteroid.
6. 'Chesapeake Bay', U.S.A - 90km diameter
Though to have been caused by a incredibly fast bolide, the Chesapeake crater lies on the shore of the state of Virginia. The event, which happened around 35 million years ago is one of the best preserved marine craters which is slowly eroding leaving an interesting geological landscape.
5. 'Popigai', Russia - 100km diameter
In the far northern reaches of Siberia the Popigai crater has been almost untouched for around 35.7 million years. Scientists have only recently been granted access to the crater following the dictatorship of Stalin who kept gulags around the crater. It is thought the crater was caused by a 8km in diameter asteroid.
4. 'Manicouagan', Canada - 100km diameter
Along with the Popigai crater, the Manicouagan crater in the Quebec region of Canada measures approximately 100km in diameter. The crater strikes an interesting picture from space with a prominent inner ring of around 70km in diameter which contains the Manicouagan reservoir.
3. 'Chicxulub', Mexico - 170km diameter
Discovered in the late 1970’s by a geologist the Chicxulub crater on the Yucutan Peninsula in Mexico is buried deep underground. A review by scientists in 2010 revealed that the impact of the crater could well have triggered the mass extinction of many species including dinosaurs.
2. 'Sudbury', Canada - 250km diameter
At an apparent 1.85 billion years old, the Sudbury Basin is one of the oldest impact craters on earth. Located in the region of Ontario the crater is thought to have developed due to an asteroid that measured around 15km in diameter. The force of the asteroid was particularly strong as it hit the earth as rock fragments were found 500 miles away in Minnesota.
1. 'Vredefort', South Africa - 300km diameter
The largest verified impact crater on earth lies in the Free State Province of South Africa. At over 2 billion years old it is the second oldest known crater on earth following the Suavjarvi crater in north-west Russia (2.4 billion years). Vredefort is one of the few multi-ringed impact craters, making it a UNESCO World Heritage site for geological interest.