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Scientists shocked: Largest meteor crater ever discovered in Australian Outback

An unbelievably massive 250-mile-wide ancient crater has been discovered in the heart of the Australian Outback by scientists who initially thought the crater was much smaller, and the new crater is by far the largest in Earth’s history.

At 250 miles wide, it dwarfs the next largest crater, the Vredefort crater in South Africa at 100 miles wide, as well as the legendary 93-miles-wide Chicxulub crater on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, which is believed by many to have caused the extinction of the dinosaurs, according to a TIME report.

Evidence of the crater is buried so deep in the Earth’s crust that scientists with the Australian National University believe it to have struck Earth at least 300 million years ago, far before dinosaurs even appeared on the Earth.

With that much time having passed, there’s no physical sign of the crater on the Earth’s surface, but the evidence buried deep underground confirms its existence. The scientists had been conducting geothermal research and were drilling deep underground when they found rock layers that had been turned into glass, signaling a high-energy impact that is classic for a meteor strike. Their findings were published in the journal Tectonophysics.

But the discovery is also a bit strange. There doesn’t appear to be a major extinction event associated with this particular crater — that is if it really is 300 million years old. Andrew Glikson, the lead researcher, said that he suspects it could be older than that, according to the report.

Such an impact may have had a profound effect on the Earth’s evolution than previously thought, he said.

The discovery was made while drilling in the Warburton Basin in Central Australia. Scientists initially thought there was one impact about 120 miles wide, but found another similar scar in the Earth’s crust, indicating to them that it was one big meteorite that broke in two shortly before smashing into the Earth. They estimate that the asteroid must have been 10 kilometers across, which would have wiped out much of life on Earth at the time, Glikson said according to a News.com.au report.

However, it is difficult to date the impact because there aren’t any other readily available meteorite strikes to measure it against. Glikson just knows it’s at least 300 million years old, and potentially older.

Such impact events can be unbelievably massive, and if one happened today would likely end the human race. It certainly spelled the end of the dinosaurs some 66 million years ago. The Chicxulub crater, the prime candidate for that extinction event, was discovered in 1978 while geophysicists working for an oil company were conducting a survey of the Gulf of Mexico near the Yucatan Peninsula. They found a giant underwater arc with amazing symmetry, leading scientists to conclude that it was cataclysmic event in the history of the Earth.

The oil company they worked for, Pemex, refuse to let them release the data but did let them present their results three years later to a group of scientists at a conference. It wasn’t until 1990, however, when a scientific team was able to collect rock samples that showed the characteristics of an impact.

Scientists believe the asteroid that caused the crater was also likely 10 kilometers across, like the newly discovered crater in Australia, and released an unbelievable amount of energy: the equivalent of 100 teratons of TNT, 2 million times more powerful than the Tsar Bomba, the most powerful man-made explosive device ever.