An worldwide team of geoscientists from the United States, Canada and Europe has discovered a large impact crater beneath the Hiawatha Glacier in remote northwest Greenland.
The scars of the meteorite smash have been preserved since then after being buried underneath ice more than a kilometre thick.
Conceptual image of the asteroid slamming into Greenland's ice sheet.
The crater is the first of its kind ever found on Greenland - or under any of the Earth's ice sheets - and is among the 25 largest known on Earth, said the report in the journal Science Advances.
Kjær said that the crater's condition indicates the impact might even have occurred toward the end of the last ice age, which would place the resulting crater among the youngest on the planet.
The researchers first spotted the crater in July 2015, while they were inspecting a new map of the topography beneath Greenland's ice sheet that used ice-penetrating radar data primarily from NASA's Operation IceBridge - a multi-year airborne mission to track changes in polar ice - and earlier NASA airborne missions in Greenland. The depression turned out to be an impact mark of a mile-long iron asteroid, which had crashed into the earth with a power of 700 one-megaton nuclear bombs like the one dropped on Hiroshima in 1945, Vice Motherboard reported.
"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", said ProfessorKurt H Kjaer from the Natural History Museum of Denmark. By using a German research plane with "next-generation radar" technology the team conducted a more thorough, focused analysis of the site, revealing the bowl-shaped contours of the crater.
They also collected samples of sediments that had been washed out of the crater through a channel of icy meltwater.
It is believed the impact could have drastically altered the climate and led to serious consequences for life on Earth at the time.
"This is conclusive evidence that the depression beneath the Hiawatha Glacier is a meteorite crater".
"We immediately knew this was something special but at the same time it became clear that it would be hard to confirm the origin of the depression", said Kurt H. Kjær, lead researcher on the study, published Wednesday in Science Advances.
Previous research shows that large asteroid impacts can significantly affect Earth's climate - and our planet's life.
Southwest of the crater, the team found a region rich in possible debris ejected from the impact, which could help to narrow the date range. "This is crucial if we are to understand how the Hiawatha impact affected life on Earth".
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