GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) — Every day, Earth is hit by more than 100 tons of space rock, including dust and sand-sized particles.
Every 2,000 years or so, an asteroid the size of a football field hits Earth and causes significant damage. But, 50,000 years ago, a large meteorite left a gaping hole in what is now Northern Arizona.
Most asteroids that survive the trip through Earth’s atmosphere ultimately fall into the ocean, simply because most of the planet is covered by water. Arizona’s Crater is an exception.
The Barringer Meteor Crater, located between Flagstaff and Winslow, is a relatively young and remarkably well-preserved depression. It’s about 20 football fields across and 600 feet deep. NASA scientists study this site extensively to learn about the cratering process and modern hazards posed by asteroid impacts.
Astronauts are also trained here, so they’re familiar with what craters are like before going to space. Researchers discovered a similar size impact event today could destroy an area the size of Kansas City. Though the exact size of the meteorite is still uncertain, anywhere between 100-170 feet across, it had to be large enough to dig out 175 million metric tons of rock.
At the time of the impact, humans hadn’t even reached North America, with what’s now Arizona covered by forest and rolling hills. It was most likely inhabited by mammoths, mastodons and giant sloths before evolving into the shrub-covered desert it is today.
Luckily, modern technology has allowed us to detect any potentially hazardous asteroids or comets before they hit. If a large object is heading our way, NASA will let us know.