Satellite images of craters reveal power of asteroids and meteorites

Satellite images reveal the destructive power of asteroids and meteorites smashing into the Earth’s surface over millions of years in new atlas detailing hundreds of craters carved by extra-terrestrial collisions

  • The first ever crater atlas features more than 200 geographical sites around the world with incredible images 
  • Researchers used a low orbit radar satellite to map every known crater on earth and build digital terrains
  • Most craters only last a few thousand years before being filled or eroded and are identified by minerals 

They look like something you would find in a galaxy far far away.

But these incredible satellite images show the destructive impact that asteroids and meteorites have carved on the Earth’s surface, resulting in a number of strangely beautiful sites.

The eye-catching photos feature in the world’s first atlas on the different craters which can be found around the world.  

Incredible satellite images show the destructive impact that asteroids and meteorites have carved on the Earth’s surface such as the Shoemaker in Western Australia (pictured)

The eye-catching photos feature in the world’s first atlas on craters which can be found all around the world such as the Lonar in India (pictured)

The 600 page tome presents more than 200 sites which are formed by asteroids and comets colliding with the planet, in high-resolution topographic maps and satellite images.

It includes detailed geological descriptions and photographs of the breathtaking rocky landscapes.

Titled Terrestrial impact Structures, the two volumes include ‘essential details’ about each impact crater, including ones which have now vanished from view.

Most craters only last a few thousand years before being filled or eroded, and can then only be identified by unique changes in the ground’s minerals from the shock wave created upon impact.

Co-author Professor Thomas Kenkmann at the University of Freiburg in Germany said: ‘The formation of craters by asteroid and comet impact has always been a fundamental process in the solar system.

The 600 page tome presents more than 200 sites such as the Serra da Cangalha in Brazil (pictured) which are formed by asteroids and comets colliding with the planet

The researchers used a low orbit radar satellite dubbed TanDEM-X between 2010 and 2016 to measure every known crater on the Earth’s surface with a height accuracy of up to a metre. Pictured: The Manicouagan crater in Quebec, Canada

‘As the planets developed along with their moons, these impacts played an important part in accreting planetary mass, shaping the surfaces of planetary bodies, and later also influencing their development.’

‘And larger meteorite impacts eventually affected the development of life on Earth.’

The researchers used a low orbit radar satellite dubbed TanDEM-X between 2010 and 2016 to measure every known crater on the Earth’s surface with a height accuracy of up to a metre.

These measurements helped them build a digital terrain model of every known crater including the Manicouagan crater in Canada, Cerro do Jarau in Brazil, the Shoemaker in Western Australia and the Gweni-Fada in Chad, Africa.

Professor Kenkmann said: ‘Lunar and interplanetary spaceflight over the past 50 years has provided us with detailed maps of the old, impact-crater covered surfaces of our Solar System neighbours.

Most craters, such as the Ries in Germany (pictured) only last a few thousand years before being filled or eroded, and can then only be identified by unique changes in the ground’s minerals from the shock wave created upon impact

‘For Earth, the global impact crater record only represents a fraction of the bombardment that our planet has had to endure.’

The books also introduce readers to the basic principles of impact cratering, radar remote sensing, and provide details of the TanDEM-X mission and field work undertaken by the researchers.

Famous craters such as the Vredefort and the Chicxulub crater in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, which put an end to the dinosaurs, are also featured in the atlas.

Thought to have been 185 miles across and 25 miles deep, the world’s largest and oldest crater, the Vredefort, appeared when a meteorite or asteroid struck what is now South Africa some 2.02 billion years ago.

The books also introduce readers to the basic principles of impact cratering, radar remote sensing, and provide details of the TanDEM-X mission and field work undertaken by the researchers. Pictured: the Gwendi-Fada crater in Chad

Gauging how big these collisions really were is difficult as the craters have shrunk and in many cases disappeared.

Professor Kenkmann said: ‘The surface of our planet is always changing and after a few thousand years craters can disappear.

‘In some of them a lake has been formed or they have been buried, others are completely eroded.

‘But the shock wave creates changes in the minerals in the ground that are unique, so even if you don’t see the crater, the shock signature remains.

‘What we sum up in this atlas are all the confirmed impact structures, even the ones you don’t see.’

The measurements helped them build a digital terrain model of every known crater including the Manicouagan crater in Canada and the Cerro do Jarau in Brazil  (pictured)

The biggest crater in the UK is underwater, about 25 miles off the northwest coast of Scotland and so does not feature in the atlas.

The underwater hole, first discovered in 2008, was carved when a three billion tonne rock smashed into the Mich basin, between the isles of Lewis and Harris in the Outer Hebrides at 40,000 miles per hour.

Asked what his favourite crater was, Professor Kenkmann said: ‘I have a special relationship to those craters in which I have carried out field work, sometimes under adventurous conditions.

‘The Australian craters often need helicopter access and then you are alone there in the outback for a couple of weeks mapping and investigating the crater structures.

‘That is really cool.’

Famous craters such as the Vredefort and the Chicxulub crater in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, which put an end to the dinosaurs, are also featured in the atlas. Pictured: Lappajarvi crater in Finland

He added: ‘Really nice was also the investigation of the morphologically spectacular crater Upheaval Dome in Utah in Canyonlands National park on the Colorado plateau.

‘This crater is deeply eroded and gives complete 3D insights into what is happening with the rock beneath a crater.

‘By the way, this crater was originally thought to be a salt dome until we were able to detect shocked minerals and proved its impact origin.’

The books, which come in a slipcase, are available for purchase on the publisher’s website Verlag Pfeil.

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