Google Earth leads to spectacular meteor crater find

From the European Space Agency via press release, the modern meteorite enthusiast’s dream – finding a crater on Google Earth and seeing it through to full discovery. As more and more hi-res images find their way in Google Earth, we will likely see more discoveries like this.

Kamil crater expedition was supported by ESA's SSA programme

Kamil crater seen by satellite (small round dot near centre of image) A radar image of the Kamil crater provided by the COSMO-SkyMed satellite constellation of the Italian Space Agency (ASI). Credits: ASI 2009 - click for a much larger image

Egyptian desert expedition confirms spectacular meteorite impact

23 September 2010

A 2008 Google Earth search led to the discovery of Kamil crater, one of the best-preserved meteorite impact sites ever found. Earlier this year, a gritty, sand-blown expedition reached the site deep in the Egyptian desert to collect iron debris and determine the crater’s age and origins.

One day within the last several thousand years, a rare metallic meteorite travelling over 12 000 km/hour smashed into Earth’s surface near what is today the trackless border region between Egypt, Sudan and Libya. The impact of the 1.3 m, 10-tonne chunk of iron generated a fireball and plume that would have been visible over 1000 km away, and drilled a hole 16 m deep and 45 m wide into the rocky terrain.

Since then, the crater had sat undisturbed by Earth’s geologic and climatic processes, which usually render all but the very largest terrestrial impact craters invisible. It was also, as far as is recorded, unseen by humans.

Searching for craters in Google Earth

But that changed in 2008, when the crater was spotted during a Google Earth study conducted by mineralologist Vincenzo De Michele, then with the Civico Museo di Storia Naturale in Milan, Italy. He was searching for natural features, when by chance he saw the rounded impact crater on his PC screen.

De Michele contacted an astrophysicist, Dr Mario Di Martino, at the INAF (National Institute for Astrophysics) observatory in Turin, who, together with Dr Luigi Folco, of Siena’s Museo Nazionale dell’Antartide, organised an expedition to the site in February this year.

It took over a year to plan and obtain permissions for the journey; in the meantime, and in collaboration with Telespazio, e-Geos and the Italian space agency ASI, the Kamil region was analysed using satellite data and in particular high-resolution radar images provided by the ASI-operated COSMO-SkyMed satellite constellation.

Expedition to the Egyptian desert

The two-week, 40-person expedition included Egyptian and Italian scientists, as well as numerous local support workers, and was conducted as part of the 2009 Italian-Egyptian Year of Science and Technology (EISY). It was also supported with funding by ESA’s Space Situational Awareness (SSA) programme.

Three-day drive to reach Kamil crater Credits: L. Folco/The Kamillers

After a tiring, GPS-guided, three-day drive across the desert in 40°C heat, the team reached the crater.

They collected over 1000 kg of metallic meteorite fragments, including one 83-kg chunk thought to have split from the main meteorite body shortly before impact (it was found 200 m away from the crater). The joint team also conducted a thorough geological and topographical survey, using ground-penetrating radar to create a 3D digital terrain model. Geomagnetic and seismic surveys were also carried out.

Expedition leader Mario Di Martino, INAF, at Kamil crater, holding a chunk of metallic meteorite debris in February 2010. Credits: Kamil Expedition Team 2010

Ground truth for small-scale impact craters

The researchers were stunned to find that Kamil crater, named after a nearby rocky outcrop, remains pristine, and must have been created relatively recently.

“This demonstrates that metallic meteorites having a mass on the order of 10 tonnes do not break up in the atmosphere, and instead explode when they reach the ground and produce a crater,” says ESA’s Dr Detlef Koschny, Head of Near Earth Objects segment for the SSA programme.

http://www.esa.int/images/kamil_9.jpg

Using ground-penetrating radar to study the impact crater Credits: L. Folco/The Kamillers

Kamil crater has become the target of intense interest for geologists, astrophysicists and even archaeologists.

“We are still determining the geochronology of the impact site, but the crater is certainly less than ten thousand years old — and potentially less than a few thousand. The impact may even have been observed by humans, and archaeological investigations at nearby ancient settlements may help fix the date,” says Dr Folco.

The data gathered during the expedition will be very useful to ESA’s SSA activities for risk assessment of small asteroids with orbits that approach Earth, a category to which the Kamil impactor originally belonged.


Editor’s note:

The intriguing story of the Kamil crater discovery will be presented in a joint paper by Telespazio, e-Geos, ASI and INAF, ‘Radar observation of impact craters using COSMOSkyMed’ at the European Planetary Science Congress (EPSC) 19-25 September 2010, in Rome. A public and media outreach event, ‘Kamil: a Lunar Crater on Earth’, will be presented on 23 September at the University of Rome (more information here).

Kamil crater in Google maps: (click for interactive view)

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61 thoughts on “Google Earth leads to spectacular meteor crater find

  1. Wasn’t this on the route that was proposed for humanity’s move from Africa to the Middle East about 6000 years ago?

  2. If it happened in the last 10,000 years or so and been witnessed, I wonder if it had been re-told in the biblical stories?

  3. Beautiful story!, I’ve seen several at the Argentinian Patagonia, also in Google earth. What really seems a bigger crater, is the west round shape of Japan coast in front of a similar curve along the Asian continent east coast. Try to see it again now. Does not it looks like a crater?….BTW I always suspected they came in a different spaceship 🙂

  4. We’ve been pretty lucky that one of these hasn’t come down in the middle of some major metro area in the last hundred years or so. But as is said; it’s not if, but when.
    We have the technology to determine point of impact if one was spotted coming in, so if there was one aimed at NYC for example, would the powers that be let the news out? What’s worse: Mass evacuation and ensuing panic/looting,etc.; or collecting the bodies and cleanup afterwards?
    One thing for sure – we couldn’t stop it or divert it with current technology.

  5. Meteor Crater in Az. Is also an example of the desert’s ability to preserve things. Read an article recently about NE Oregon being a hotspot or bits and chunks of meteor
    remains. Hmm maybe I will get a metal detector….

  6. I was watching the show “Meteor Men” the other night… I never knew that these meteors regularly are worth more than their weight in gold.
    I’m in the wrong business.

  7. I wonder if the “Black Stone” of the Kaaba in Mecca is from this asteroid.
    Per Wiki
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaaba
    “The Kaaba marked the location where the sacred world intersected with the profane, and the embedded Black Stone was a further symbol of this as a meteorite that had fallen from the sky and linked heaven and earth.[22]”

  8. Ammonyte says:
    September 24, 2010 at 11:33 am
    If it happened in the last 10,000 years or so and been witnessed, I wonder if it had been re-told in the biblical stories?
    I bet whoever saw it proclaimed it was “Unprecedented” and “worse than we thought”

  9. The impact is out in the middle of … Egypt. I doubt anyone saw it. Even if the event happened this century, it could easily have been missed.

  10. It was said:
    “10-tonne chunk of iron generated a fireball and plume that would have been visible over 1000 km away”
    Certainly, any humans in the vicinity that were not vaporized would have realized something (from the Gods) had taken place. Finding the metal fragments would have been quite a prize.

  11. Thanks for this article. I love maps and have spend WAY too many hours pouring over google maps looking at interesting terrain all over the world!
    A crater I took note of is the one in the Bolivian Amazon jungle near the Manupari river since I have good friends that lived and worked with the Araona people who live along the river.
    Here is the location of the crater:
    http://maps.google.com/maps?q=-12.587403,-67.675438&num=1&t=h&sll=-16.290154,-63.588653&sspn=11.104583,16.391602&ie=UTF8&ll=-12.580366,-67.675781&spn=0.112922,0.231743&z=12
    Here is information on the expedition to study the crater:
    http://www.mobot.org/mobot/research/bolivia/craternew/welcome.shtml
    Another feature in Bolivia that I found facinating are these:
    http://maps.google.com/maps?q=-13.084327,-65.448775&num=1&t=h&sll=-12.584387,-67.657585&sspn=0.11292,0.231743&ie=UTF8&ll=-13.084912,-65.449934&spn=0.014087,0.028968&z=15
    If you look around this area, you will find *hundreds* of these things that look like petrified log jams. As a young earth creationist, I was intrigued with the possible implications for a world-wide flood. However, I believe these are more likely the remains of fishing weirs (?) from an earlier (large) civilization related to the present day Baure even though it’s a little outside the area identified in this link.
    http://www.sas.upenn.edu/anthro/system/files/Nature1.pdf
    I believe this also fits in with recent studies that find evidence of a very large civilization in the Amazon farther north of this location in Brazil and Peru (http://news.discovery.com/archaeology/astonishing-ancient-amazon-civilization-discovery-detailed.html).
    For my fellow mapaholics, have fun exploring!
    Steve

  12. David L. says:
    September 24, 2010 at 12:35 pm
    (Ammonyte says:
    September 24, 2010 at 11:33 am
    If it happened in the last 10,000 years or so and been witnessed, I wonder if it had been re-told in the biblical stories?)
    I bet whoever saw it proclaimed it was “Unprecedented” and “worse than we thought”
    ——————————-
    III Chronicles 17:32-41, presumably one of the Lost Books ;o)

  13. When I read articles like this and the others that don’t fit in to “climate science”, I just know that long after the AGW scare has gone away, WUWT is going to be alright. Thank God.

  14. Curiousgeorge says:
    September 24, 2010 at 12:19 pm
    We have the technology to determine point of impact if one was spotted coming in, so if there was one aimed at NYC for example, would the powers that be let the news out? What’s worse: Mass evacuation and ensuing panic/looting,etc.; or collecting the bodies and cleanup afterwards?

    Let them loot. I’m sure they’ll “see the light” and stop.

  15. Curiousgeorge says:
    September 24, 2010 at 12:19 pm
    Pretty long odds:
    29% of Earth is land mass. Of that 29% humans occupy less than 1%. Of the remaining 28% about 40% is pure wilderness. 14% is true desert and 15% has desert like characteristics. 9% is Antarctica. Most of the remaining 22% are agricultural areas.

  16. Paulhan – I agree a very interesting article but unfortunately the AGW scare won’t go away any more than gravity effect scare will go away.
    The grenehouse effect is the greenhouse effect , and trying to wish it away with words like scare is missing the point of why God gave us intelligence.

  17. @ stevenlibby says:
    September 24, 2010 at 1:42 pm
    The sites which you have pointed out look remarkably like fish farms on a channelled river. Such excavations and the resulting deposits would leave marks visible for a very long time. The fact that trees appear on the self-same sites would seem to indicate the presence of both moisture and nutrients.

  18. Google Earth will also lead to spectacular booty finds.
    It’s bad enough I have to worry if the neighbors are looking, nowadays I also wonder if satellites are watching me perform a late-night backyard “emergency plant watering.”
    Soon legions of young people will bring further shame to their parental units by proudly proclaiming on their Facebook pages: “Look what Google caught me and (fill in the blank) doing!”
    Truly there has never been a more important matter requiring immediate Congressional action. Start the hearings now!

  19. Enneagram says: September 24, 2010 at 11:44 am
    . . .What really seems a bigger crater, is the west round shape of Japan coast in front of a similar curve along the Asian continent east coast. Try to see it again now. Does not it looks like a crater?….BTW I always suspected they came in a different spaceship 🙂

    No, we came in the same spaceship. We were just up in First Class.
    Lat lon for Google Earth is 22° 1’6.0″N 26° 5’15.45″E

  20. @ Dave Worley says:
    September 24, 2010 at 2:38 pm
    Pretty long odds: ………………………………..
    Not disputing that. But those odds ( of damage to a population center ) shrink with the size and type of meteor/comet, as well as the growth of target zones. A deep water strike of a large rock would create a serious tsunami, etc. A large enough strike in the middle of the Gobi would send up a cloud of debris that could wipe out crops for a year or 2, etc. You have to consider more than just distribution of vacant land, water, etc. This kind of thing has happened in the fairly recent past ( Tunguska, and another multi kiloton size hit off the coast of S. Africa in ’79 I believe ), so the odds may not be as long as you think. In fact, I think estimating the odds of a modern day damaging strike are very much a wild guess.

  21. I had the pleasure of observing a large incoming meteor when I was 7 yrs old. It appeared to be the size of a house, and appeared to be at less than 1000 ft of altitude. I could see features clearly, including a nickel like metallic shine on some surfaces. It was in California with mountains all around. It traversed the entire horizon in a few seconds, and the strangest part: It was not burning. There was no sound, and no shock wave….. suggesting it was much higher and much larger than it appeared.

  22. What a thrill for the exploration team!
    If you took Dr. Martino and the meteorite fragment out of the 2nd photo above, the scene looks much like some of the photos returned from Mars by the Spirit and Opportunity rovers.
    Hmm, perhaps leave the meteorite – Opportunity is currently heading toward something that is likely an iron meteorite.
    http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov/newsroom/pressreleases/20100921a.html
    Spirit is stuck in sand and poorly oriented for the winter sunlight. It may not recover from the winter.

  23. I haven’t spent much time looking for impact craters, but one can quickly find some substantial round or nearly round natural ‘formations’ in Google/satellite view–such as this 40 mile wide plus circle framed by 3 rivers in Wisconsin: http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&geocode=&q=burnside,+wi&sll=44.43378,-91.338959&sspn=0.875679,2.110748&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=Burnside&ll=44.478871,-91.403503&spn=1.74999,4.221497&t=h&z=9
    Any interesting history on this one? Or just random interaction of vegetation, runoff, etc?

  24. Great article.
    Makes you wonder if the stone throwing habits of the locals have been inspired by this event.

  25. “Plants require carbon dioxide to conduct photosynthesis. Greenhouses may (and of large size – must) enrich their atmospheres with additional CO2 to sustain plant life and growth.”
    That greenhouse effect ? Plants growing ?
    CO2 doesn’t even make the greenhouses hot. The glass does. No glass on Earth’s atmosphere.
    I am not wishing it away.
    I am questioning the exaggeration of the effect to the point of ignorance of all others as
    a political position.

  26. 35.3 and 35.7 million years ago, the Earth experienced two 5 km asteroid strikes – Popigai in Russia and Cheaspeake Bay in Virginia that left 100 km wide craters. These were the 3rd and 4th largest strikes in the last 600 million years.
    They did not, however, leave a signature in the isotope-derived temperature history which has a resolution of about 10,000 years at the time.
    The last biggest strike within recorded history (Tunguska aside which did not leave a crater) was Wabar in South Africa 1,400 years ago which left a 100 metre wide crater, nothing really.
    So, they are rare and it takes a really, really big one to leave a lasting impact on the climate.
    http://www.unb.ca/passc/ImpactDatabase/CIDiameterSort3.htm
    http://www.unb.ca/passc/ImpactDatabase/images/wabar.htm
    Vedrefort in South Africa, 2 billion years ago, left a 300 km wide crater which is still visible on the Earth today and the day this happened would not have been a good one (for the bacteria that is).
    http://www.unb.ca/passc/ImpactDatabase/images/vredefort.htm
    There could also be an even bigger one under the ice in Antarctica -age unknown but it might be more recent.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilkes_Land_crater

  27. My favorite view of Hudson Bay region is of a multi-impact site, nicely preserved in the Canadian Shield formation.
    Something like 3-4 billion yrs ago. Match up with the largest impacts on the Moon?

  28. Most impact craters seem to be circular, indicating a direct head-on impact (especially the gravity anomaly images) rather than elliptical. Is there a sound reason for this?

  29. Why was the iron not vapourised. They estimate total weight of 10 tonnes and report finding 1,000 KG. Thats 10% survival rate. Why and How?
    Note the dismissal of reports of the impact, there are loads of possible reports in the historical record. They saw things and reported what they saw.

  30. I’d like to answer some questions in the above commments:

    NO, neither the route, nor the time, “Out of Africa” was 60.000 (!) years ago.

    NO, the location is far away from Israel, (nevertheless: depending on the impacts direction there is some chance it could have been visible). The bible was probably written much later, around 800 BC. But there are much better chronicles for ancient times: eg. Babylonian or Egyptian astronomers. Don’t forget, the Jews were just some nomading shepherds at this times.

    NO. The desert ist so huge, Desertec will only need a tiny tiny part of it. The solar plants are planned along the coast, near to roads and other places better to reach.

  31. I’d like to answer some questions in the above comments:
    “Wasn’t this on the route that was proposed for humanity’s move from Africa to the Middle East about 6000 years ago?”
    NO, neither the route, nor the time, “Out of Africa” was 60.000 (!) years ago.
    “If it happened in the last 10,000 years or so and been witnessed, I wonder if it had been re-told in the biblical stories?”
    NO, the location is far away from Israel, (nevertheless: depending on the impacts direction there is some chance it could have been visible). The bible was probably written much later, around 800 BC. And there are much better chronicles for ancient times: eg. Babylonian or Egyptian astronomers. Don’t forget, the Jews were just some nomading shepherds at this times.
    “Aint that the place where the Europeans want to build Desertec?”
    NO. The desert ist so huge, Desertec will only need a tiny tiny part of it. The solar plants are planned along the coast, near to roads and other places better to reach.

  32. This is great stuff. What else would a geologist say. Good to see it and hope we find more in the future. I have personally, not worked on impact craters since about 1991. They do come in many sizes of course all round things are not produced by the same processes but having found iron fragments, and large ones at that, do make this a potentially important discovery.

  33. stevenlibby says:
    September 24, 2010 at 1:23 pm
    “”Another feature in Bolivia that I found facinating are these:
    http://maps.google.com/maps?q=-13.084327,-65.448775&num=1&t=h&sll=-12.584387,-67.657585&sspn=0.11292,0.231743&ie=UTF8&ll=-13.084912,-65.449934&spn=0.014087,0.028968&z=15
    If you look around this area, you will find *hundreds* of these things that look like petrified log jams. “”
    Reply; they look like feed lots for beef cattle, almost all of them are close, or surrounded by large patches of over grazed scrub. One further East looks to be no longer used, as it’s area is totally overgrazed and the pens are empty. All of these spots are connected by dirt roads, other local areas have been seeded in grasses, you can see the sweeps of the planters, and the grass growth looks just short of a good sod stand.

  34. stevenlibby says:
    September 24, 2010 at 1:42 pm
    Looks like sheep and/or goats from all of the white clumps in the pens and the difference in the rills in soil from erosion from the trails leading to and from the pens area, and better shade from the trees, for goats or sheep than cattle need.

  35. “We have the technology to determine point of impact if one was spotted coming in, so if there was one aimed at NYC for example, would the powers that be let the news out? What’s worse: Mass evacuation and ensuing panic/looting,etc.; or collecting the bodies and cleanup afterwards?”
    They’d probably let it happen, blame it Iran/terrorists or both, then declare martial law in the US.
    Mind you, I may be wrong since extrapolating from recent trends is not always reliable. 😉

  36. Dave, a rock that size hitting the oceans would create a huge tsunami. It doesn’t have to hit you in the head to kill you.

  37. If it hits on land, the shock/heat wave plus ejecta will make a mess of the land for tens, if not hundreds of miles in all directions.

  38. Keith Minto says:
    September 24, 2010 at 7:41 pm
    Most impact craters seem to be circular, indicating a direct head-on impact (especially the gravity anomaly images) rather than elliptical. Is there a sound reason for this?
    ===========
    Good question, why no glancing shots.
    Gravity must tear the projectile to shreads before it hits?

  39. Djozar says: Wasn’t this on the route that was proposed for humanity’s move from Africa to the Middle East about 6000 years ago?
    I think you are talking about the Sahara Pump theory. It says folks moved from the Sahara out in all directions toward water; though a large group ended up along the Nile and started Pharaonic Egypt.
    http://chiefio.wordpress.com/2010/08/10/cold-dry-sahara-hot-wet-savanna/
    As the Sahara cooled (yes, it was hotter then, and cooling displaced the water turning it into a desert) folks abandoned the place. The likely trigger moment being the 5.9 Kiloyear Event
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/5.9_kiloyear_event
    or about the 4000 BC when Egypt thrust itself on the scene… which might explain both the sudden onset of culture and writing AND the stories of a grand city buried under the Sahara Sands. If it were up to me, I’d be digging at the major join of some of the riverbeds under the Sahara and at the places where they enter lakebeds and / or seas. I’d bet hard money we find ‘proto-Egyptian’ construction and writing…
    Given all that, I’d expect the N. Pole to have had a lot less ice then too.

  40. To find meteorites all you need is an unchanged rocky or icy surface and a good eye. The antarctic is obviously a good place to look as they jump off the ice at you from quite a distance, but if you’re stuck in the big city where do you go?
    You look for rocky mesa formations: http://tinyurl.com/37mlxln

  41. Gary Pearse says:
    September 25, 2010 at 8:15 am
    Hudson Bay was the centre load point for the glaciers during the ice ages. Let’s say it was the centre for 15 of the 25 ice ages in the last 2.5 million years.
    This has depressed Hudson Bay below sea level (it has risen over 200 metres in the last 7,000 years due to post-glacial rebound). The Baltic Sea, the Barents Sea, the Kara sea and other shallow continental shelf regions in the Arctic (which are very extensive) are likely the result of similar processes.
    The circular features are due to highest accumulation points (which were 3 kms high over Hudson Bay and may have been two or three different ones) pushing out in all directions (and pushing down by) gravity thus forming circular features. James Bay is one of the main channels of glacial flow south (since there was much less glacier directly to the south, the main pressure differentials would have forced the glacier through this channel).
    There may be an impact crater there, but no evidence at all has been found in terms of shocked rock etc while the glaciers are capable of explaining the features.

  42. Curiousgeorge says:
    We have the technology to determine point of impact if one was spotted coming in, so if there was one aimed at NYC for example, would the powers that be let the news out? What’s worse: Mass evacuation and ensuing panic/looting,etc.; or collecting the bodies and cleanup afterwards?
    What if the impact site is deep ocean? Resulting in a tsunami rather than a crater. Predicting where a tsunami will do most damage is difficult since there are many factors involved.

  43. Keith Minto says:
    Most impact craters seem to be circular, indicating a direct head-on impact (especially the gravity anomaly images) rather than elliptical. Is there a sound reason for this?
    IIRC it has to do with the physics of the impact event. Meteor Crater is circular but the remains of the impacting body is now believed to be part of the South rim. (Rather than in the middle as Daniel M. Barringer originally thought.)
    When it comes to large craters the issue of what map projection is used is likely to be an issue too.

  44. Alexander,
    The 6000 – 10,000 year event I was talking about was time when a cyclic shift in the earth’s axis removed the rains in this part of the world and led the herders/gatherers to the east. The shift may only be a hypothesis, but the settlements of the herders of this period have been found.

  45. Jimash says:
    September 24, 2010 at 12:51 pm
    It has nice rays.

    Indeed, wich would suggest that this is a relative fresh crater, more likely less than a thousand years than ten thousand years.

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