The asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs was enormous – but it was by no means the largest ever to hit our planet.
When it comes to gargantuan extinction-level asteroid impacts, the asteroid responsible for wiping out the dinosaurs – which struck around 66 million years ago – needs no introduction.
There exists, however, evidence of an impact that would have made this one seem positively trivial.
Situated around 75 miles to the southwest of Johannesburg in South Africa, there can be found the remnants of the Vredefort crater – the site of an enormous asteroid impact that occurred around two billion years ago, long before the dinosaurs or other similarly complex life emerged on our world.
Exactly how large this impact was had remained unclear for many years because craters shrink over time, but now a new study has highlighted the true scale of this ancient impact and it appears as though the crater was originally somewhere around 174 miles in diameter – dwarfing the dinosaur-killing Chicxulub crater which measures around 112 miles across.
The space rock responsible would have been up to 15.5 miles in diameter and was traveling at speeds of up to 56,000 mph when it slammed into the Earth’s surface.
This would have been more than double the 7.2-mile-wide asteroid that killed off the dinosaurs.
Such an impact would have been utterly devastating, but due to how long ago the impact occurred, it is now difficult to tell exactly what effects it might have had on the planet.
“Unlike the Chicxulub impact, the Vredefort impact did not leave a record of mass extinction or forest fires given that there were only single-cell lifeforms and no trees existed two billion years ago,” said planetary scientist and study co-author Miki Nakajima.
“However, the impact would have affected the global climate potentially more extensively than the Chicxulub impact did.”