Science

10 asteroid impacts that changed our view of the solar system

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10. 50,000 years ago, an asteroid slammed into Earth with the strength of 20 million tons of TNT. The result was Meteor Crater, Earth’s best-preserved crater, in northwest Arizona.

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9. In 2018, scientists found an impact crater wider than Paris 1,000 feet below the Hiawatha Glacier in Greenland. Scientists think the offending asteroid hit sometime between 12,000 and 3 million years ago with the energy of 45 Hiroshima bombs.

8. Pluto’s heart dazzled scientists as NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft snapped close-up photos of the dwarf planet during a flyby on July 14, 2015. Now scientists think that the western side of the heart, named Sputnik Planitia, is a giant impact basin. And lurking underneath might be a liquid water ocean.

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7. A team of researchers in Turkey recently found the earliest record of death-by-meteorite. Three letters written to the Sultan at the time described that on August 22, 1888, a meteorite impact in Iraq killed one person, paralyzed another, and damaged crops.

6. In July 1994, the comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 broke up in Jupiter’s atmosphere and hit the planet, creating dark spots that could be seen with telescopes on Earth. The impacts lofted material into Jupiter’s atmosphere and spread around the planet, allowing scientists to study Jupiter’s winds for the first time.

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5. In 2008, scientists saw 2008 TC3 with 19 hours to calculate its orbit and trajectory. The 13-foot-wide meteoroid disintegrated on October 7 above Sudan.

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4. Dashcams in Chelyabinsk, Russia lit up on February 15, 2013, as a 65-foot-meteor exploded in the sky. The resulting airblast damaged buildings and smashed windows, leading to over 1000 injuries. The impact also inspired NASA to centralize its planetary defense efforts to more efficiently keep track of threats to our planet.

3. A 33-foot-wide meteor exploded over the Bering Sea in December 2018, the second most powerful fireball in the last 30 years. This event only rivals the Chelyabinsk fireball of 2013.

2. Some time in Mars’s past, an asteroid impact formed Jezero Crater, where NASA’s next Mars rover, named Perseverance, is slated to land in February 2021. Jezero Crater once held a lake about 800 feet deep, which makes it a prime spot to look for evidence of ancient life.

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1. Possibly the most notable impact occured 66 million years ago, when a 6-mile-wide asteroid slammed into Earth, creating the Yucatán Peninsula’s 90-mile-wide Chicxulub Crater. This infamous impact helped drive most dinosaur species to extinction -- and helped mammals rise.

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