A digital rendering of the crater discovered beneath Greenland’s ice. (NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/ Jefferson Beck)
NASA scientists have spotted a giant crater beneath Greenland’s ice that may be the result of a massive meteorite smashing into the Earth.
The crater, which is just over 22 miles wide, would be one of the largest meteorite impact sites on Earth if it is proved to be the result of a space rock. The crater is buried under more than a mile of ice.
In November 2018, scientists announced the discovery of a 19-mile-wide crater beneath Greenland’s Hiawatha Glacier. Experts say that the crater was formed by a meteorite that struck Earth “less than 3 million years ago” and likely “rocked the Northern Hemisphere.”
The crater beneath Hiawatha Glacier is the first of its type discovered beneath Earth’s ice sheets.
If the newly-discovered 22-mile-wide crater is indeed the result of a meteorite, it would be 22nd-largest impact crater found on Earth, according to NASA.
Using NASA satellite data, Joe MacGregor, a glaciologist with the agency’s Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD., identified the second potential crater 114 miles from Hiawatha Glacier.
“I began asking myself ‘Is this another impact crater? Do the underlying data support that idea?’,” he said, in a statement. “Helping identify one large impact crater beneath the ice was already very exciting, but now it looked like there could be two of them.”
Researchers also studied data from commercial satellites and radar images of bedrock collected by NASA’s Operation IceBridge.
The crater is described in a study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.
After analyzing radar data, ice samples and erosion rates scientists say that, despite the proximity of the two craters, they do not appear to have formed at the same time. Computer models were also used to track the production of large craters on Earth, which said that craters forming close to one another, without a twin impact, are consistent with the planet’s history.
Other geographically close but unrelated craters have been found in Ukraine and Canada, according to NASA. In each pair, the ages of the craters are different.
A small chunk of an asteroid or comet is also known as a meteoroid. When it enters Earth’s atmosphere, it becomes a meteor or fireball or shooting star. The pieces of rock that hit the ground, valuable to collectors, are meteorites.