Manicouagan Crater
Credit: NASA public domain photo.

Manicouagan Crater in Quebec is the sixth-largest known meteorite crater on Earth.[1]

Canada is the impact crater capital of the world

Meteorite or asteroid impact craters on planet Earth number at least 170, and many are located in Canada.[2] The reason for so many being found in Canada is that the hard geological shield which makes up much of much of the continental crust, called the Canadian Shield, wears away very slowly and so craters from even tens of millions of years ago have been preserved quite well.[4]

Elsewhere in the world, they have been preserved in dry desert areas. Some locations such as much of the interior of Australia have both dryness and a hard geological shield.[4] Although Canada isn’t dry, the Canadian Shield has preserved at least 32 impact craters.[3]

The information below is about what I consider the top three Canadian impact craters, and they are all found in Quebec. Other Canadian provinces have impact craters as well.[3]

Pingualuit Crater

Pingualuit Crater
Credit: NASA public domain photo.

Pingualuit Crater is located in Quebec, Canada.

There are other impact craters in Quebec besides the ones mentioned here,[3] and the ones featured in this article are the most obvious, when viewed from above, as being caused by asteroids smashing into the surface of the Earth. Like others below, this one is in a remote location and is perhaps best viewed on Google Earth or Google Maps.

Pingualuit Crater is located on the Ungava Peninsula, about 80 miles (131 km) from the very northernmost point. It is about 1.8 miles (3 km) in diameter, and appears almost perfectly circular. It rises about 520 feet (160 meters) above the surrounding area, and the interior is about 1,300 feet (400 meters) deep, with Pingualuk Lake filling up the bottom 876 feet (267 meters).[5]

The impact crater looks as good as it does largely because it is relatively young, estimated at 1.3 to 1.5 million years old (in the middle of the Pleistocene Epoch).[5] This was a few hundred thousand years before the continent was plunged into the last great Ice Age, which lasted from about 781,000 years ago to about 11,700 years ago.[6]

Manicouagan Crater

Manicouagan Crater II
Credit: Public domain NASA photo.

On Google Maps or Google Earth, zoom so that you can see all of Quebec, and view it as though you are in space - and you can see Manicouagan Crater standing out clearly.

Appearing as a 40-mile (70 km) diameter, ring-shaped lake, this super massive impact crater was formed an estimated 214 million years ago, during the Triassic Period. It has been proposed that an asteroid or comet tbroke up and formed several huge craters across the Earth all at once, which are now found in North Dakota, Manitoba, Quebec, France, and Ukraine.[7]

This chain of craters no longer appears to line up, which is due to the movement of the Earth’s tectonic plates since they were formed. With the former alignment of this chain of craters, and their ages all being the exact same, the chances that they occurred in separate events would have to be zero.[7]

Whatever hit what is now Quebec and formed Manicouagan Crater was likely 5 km (3 miles) in diameter, and the crater formed was originally about 100 km (61 miles) wide. It sits today about 100 miles (160 km) north of the St. Lawrence River in the southern part of Quebec. It is very easy to spot in aerial photos, as seen above.[7]

Since the time that this impact crater was made, only two that are larger are known to have formed on the Earth, which are the Kara Crater in northern Russia (120 km/73 miles wide, 70 million years old) and the Chicxulub Crater in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula (180 km/110 miles wide, 65.5 million years old).[1] The one in Mexico is attributed to causing (or at least heavily contributing to) the extinction of all dinosaurs except birds, and a majority of plant and animal species on Earth, at the end of the Cretaceous Period.[8]

Clearwater Lakes Craters

Clearwater Lakes Craters
Credit: NASA public domain photo.

These two craters formed hundreds of millions of years ago in separate events.

Two large, circular lakes in the middle of Quebec (and about 100 miles/60 km east of Hudson Bay) for a long term were long thought to have been formed by a large double impact about 275 to 300 million years ago, during the Permian Period or possibly the late Carboniferous Period.[9]

Studies done in 2014 however concluded that they were not formed in the same event. The date for the west crater is thought to remain the same as what was determined before, although the east crater has been given a new age of about 460 million years. This means that their ages differ by more than 200 million years, a surprising finding.[9]

At the time that the asteroid that formed the west crater hit, the Earth’s landmasses were mostly together in a supercontinent called Pangaea. It was after the Permian Period, during the time that dinosaurs dominated the Earth for over 150 million years, that Pangaea broke up into separate landmasses.[10]

Going back to the proposed date for the east crater puts the impact event in the Ordivician Period, which is the second of six periods that comprise the Paleozoic Era. This era preceded the Mesozoic, which is when dinosaurs ruled the Earth. The Paleozoic ended, and the Mesozoic began, about 251 million years ago. The two impact craters therefore both occurred within the Paleozoic Era, but near opposite ends of it.[11]

The impact sites that remain today, filled with water and called the Clearwater Lakes, are 36 km (22 miles) and 26 km (16 miles) in diameter. The asteroids that landed here long ago were enormous, estimated at between 1 km (0.6 miles) and 3 km (1.8 miles) in diameter apiece.[9]