Asteroid That Dwarfed Dinosaur-Killer Punched Earth 3 Billion Years Ago, Study Says

Early in Earth’s history, a killer asteroid smashed a hole in our planet about 300 miles (500 kilometers) wide, which is greater than the driving distance between Washington and New York City, a new study says. The space rock set off a cycle of destruction that sounds like your worst nightmares.

That one reported collision 3.26 billion years ago made the Earth tremble, created earthquakes and set off tsunamis that were thousands of meters deep, according to a new research team. The size of this estimated destructor? About 37 kilometers (23 miles) wide, or about three times as wide as the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

“We knew it was big, but we didn’t know how big,” stated co-author Donald Lowe, a geologist at Stanford University and a co-author of the study, of the asteroid.

Evidence of the huge impact — the first one mapped from so long ago — comes from an examination of the Barberton Greenstone Belt in South Africa, which shows rocks and “crustal fractures” that are consistent with the idea of a giant impact, the scientists said. (The asteroid struck the Earth thousands of miles away, but where isn’t known.)

An satellite view of Barberton greenstone around the town of Barberton, South Africa. Credit: NASA Earth Observatory/Landsat/U.S. Geological Survey/Jesse Allen

If confirmed, the asteroid could have been one of many that smacked Earth during what is known as the Late Heavy Bombardment period, which pummeled the solar system with debris between 3 billion and 4 billion years ago.

This one event could even have changed the way the Earth formed, the scientists added. For example, it could have been broken up our planet’s crust and tectonics, creating the plate tectonics we are familiar with today.

You can read more about the research in the journal Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems. It was led by Norman Sleep, a geophysicist at Stanford University.

Source: American Geophysical Union

Elizabeth Howell

Elizabeth Howell is the senior writer at Universe Today. She also works for Space.com, Space Exploration Network, the NASA Lunar Science Institute, NASA Astrobiology Magazine and LiveScience, among others. Career highlights include watching three shuttle launches, and going on a two-week simulated Mars expedition in rural Utah. You can follow her on Twitter @howellspace or contact her at her website.

Recent Posts

NASA is Building a Nuclear Reactor to Power Lunar and Martian Exploration!

NASA and the U.S. Dept. of Energy have come together to solicit design proposals for…

15 hours ago

InSight Peers Deep Below the Surface on Mars

The InSight lander has been on Mars, gathering data for a thousand days now, working…

1 day ago

Astronauts Took A Fly-around of the International Space Station. Here are Their Stunning Pictures

When astronauts left the International Space Station in early November to return home on the…

2 days ago

NASA Simulation Shows What Happens When Stars Get Too Close to Black Holes

What happens to a star when it strays too close to a monster black hole?…

2 days ago

The Parker Solar Probe is getting pelted by hypervelocity dust. Could they damage spacecraft?

There’s a pretty significant disadvantage to going really fast - if you get hit with…

2 days ago

The Decadal Survey is out! What new Missions and Telescopes are in the Works?

It’s that time again.  Once every ten years, the American astronomy community joins forces through…

3 days ago