(CN) – Scientists revealed Sunday the discovery of the largest meteorite strike in the United Kingdom, a 1.2 billion-year-old impact crater created by a meteorite more than half a mile wide.
Details of the site were published in a paper in Journal of the Geological Society. Though evidence of the collision was discovered in 2008, scientists from Oxford University just recently located the impact crater 9 to 12 miles west of the Scottish coastline in the Minch Basin, a strait in northwest Scotland.
“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,” said Ken Amor, team lead and researcher at Oxford University. “It was purely by chance this one landed in an ancient rift valley where fresh sediment quickly covered the debris to preserve it.”
Amor and his team measured the direction parts of the meteorite took, allowing them to discover the likely location of the impact crater.
When the meteorite struck, most life on Earth lived in the sea and the land was devoid of plant life, making the Earth look “a bit like Mars when it had water at the surface,” the researchers said. Scotland would have been close to the equator at that point and in a semi-arid environment.
“It would have been quite a spectacle when this large meteorite struck a barren landscape, spreading dust and rock debris over a wide area,” Amor said.
Scientists theorize that Earth endured a higher rate of meteorite strikes as debris from the formation of the early solar system collided with it and other planets. Researchers from the study said collisions of the size of the one in Scotland can occur between every 100,000 to 1 million years.
The range of years varies because evidence of impact craters is often destroyed by erosion, burial and plate tectonics.