Area Off Scotland the Site of Largest Meteorite to Hit British Isles 1.2 Billion Years Ago

By Pam Wright

June 11 2019 02:02 PM EDT

A field photo taken at Stoer showing the laminar beds of sandstone, in the middle of which is the impact deposit left by the asteroid.
(Handout/PR No credit)

At a Glance

  • The British Isle's largest-ever meteorite struck off the coast of Scotland some 1.2 billion years ago.
  • Researchers have been able to pinpoint the exact location of impact just west of Ullapool, in northwest Scotland.
  • The meteorite is estimated to have been a mile wide.

Researchers say they believe they have located the impact site of the largest meteorite to ever hit the British Isles off the coast of Scotland.

Evidence for the 1.2-billion-year-old meteorite was first discovered in 2008 near Ullapool, in northwest Scotland, according to a paper published in the Journal of the Geological Society.

Scientists from Oxford and Aberdeen universities were able to determine that the thickness and extent of the debris deposit discovered in 2008 in the Minch Basin — a strait that separates mainland Scotland from the northern Inner Hebrides from Lewis and Harris — suggested a crater impact, but pinpointing the exact location of the mile-wide meteorite's impact eluded the researchers.

Using a combination of factors including field observations, the team was able to gauge the direction the meteorite debris took at several locations and pinpoint the likely impact spot about nine to 12 miles west of Ullapool.

"The material excavated during a giant meteorite impact is rarely preserved on Earth, because it is rapidly eroded, so this is a really exciting discovery. It was purely by chance this one landed in an ancient rift valley where fresh sediment quickly covered the debris to preserve it, lead author Ken Amor of the Department of Earth Sciences at England's Oxford University said in a press release.

(MORE: Canada Passes 'Free Willy' Bill Banning Captivity, Breeding and Capture of Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises)

Amor noted that the impact would have been "quite a spectacle" when it hit the barren landscape, spreading "dust and rock debris over a wide area."

During the time when the meteorite struck Earth 1.2 billion years ago, the planet was still mostly oceans with no plants on land. Scotland would have been close to the equator and would have looked more like Mars than the way it looks today, the press release notes.

Amor said the next step in their research of the meteorite site is to conduct a detailed geophysical survey in the target area of the Minch Basin.

The Weather Company’s primary journalistic mission is to report on breaking weather news, the environment and the importance of science to our lives. This story does not necessarily represent the position of our parent company, IBM.