NASA has announced the discovery of a massive meteorite impact crater hidden deep beneath the Greenland ice. The crater measures over 19 miles wide and 1,000ft deep, making it one of the top 25 largest impact craters on the planet. The discovery was made by a team of researchers led by the University of Copenhagen’s Centre for GeoGenetics at the Natural History Museum of Denmark.
The crater is buried more than half a mile under ice in Greenland, according to NASA. Data from the space agency was used in the discovery, which took place in 2015 followed by three year of verification. To put it in perspective, NASA says the crater is bigger than the Capital Beltway in Washington.
Evidence of the impact crater was found thanks in part to ice-penetrating radar data from Operation IceBridge, which is NASA’s multi-year mission to track Earth’s important ice. Joining that data was satellite imagery gathered by the space agency’s Aqua and Terra satellites, which revealed the presence of a circular pattern on the ice surface.
A flight over the Hiawatha Glacier where the impact crater lies was used to map the area using ice-penetrating radar. With that, researchers were graced with the presence of a “distinctly circular rim, central uplift, disturbed and undisturbed ice layering, and basal debris,” according to NASA Goddard Space Flight Center glaciologist Joe MacGregor.
The crater is less than 3 million years old and was formed by a huge half-mile wide iron meteorite. The impact site is described as very well preserved and one of the youngest large craters on Earth. The study’s lead author Kurt Kjær explained, “The crater is exceptionally well-preserved and that is surprising because glacier ice is an incredibly efficient erosive agent that would have quickly removed traces of the impact.”