American South

Big Boom: The Best Places to See Meteorite Impact Craters

Ancient impacts changed landscapes and perhaps even the course of evolution—here’s where to see the coolest craters this summer

Visitors take a guided tour of the Barringer Meteorite Crater in northern Arizona. (© Tony Rowell/Corbis)

Early in the morning of October 6, 2008, astronomers at the University of Arizona detected an asteroid on a collision course with Earth. When other sightings cropped up across the world, the astronomers’ suspicions were confirmed—the asteroid was going to hit our planet. It was the first time in history an asteroid had been observed before impact. Within hours, the asteroid entered the Earth’s atmosphere (and thus became a meteor) and broke up into tiny pieces. These fragments—known as meteorites—landed in a remote location in northern Sudan.

Luckily for Earth, this meteor wasn’t the big one that NASA scientists are warning could one day crash into our planet (and that Bruce Willis once blew up in a movie). But throughout history, meteorites have left their beautiful—if destructive—scars upon the globe. Here are some of the best places to see meteorite impact sites this summer:

Kaali Meteorite Crater Field: Saaremaa Island, Estonia

About 7,500 hundred years ago, a meteor entered the Earth’s atmosphere and broke apart into nine pieces over present-day Saaremaa Island in Estonia. Our pre-historic ancestors must have gone into a wild panic watching these giant rocks fall from the sky—when the pieces hit the ground, they caused a combined impact comparable to an atomic bomb. Given the densely populated area where the meteorites fell, the causalties were likely severe.

All nine impact sites, now called the Kaali Meteorite Crater Field, can still be visited today, and come complete with a museum, gift shop and hotel. Several are relatively small (one measures 36 feet across and just over three feet deep), but the largest is over 360 feet and now filled with water. Archeologists believe this crater may have been the site for ancient cult activities, including animal sacrifices.

About Matt Blitz

Matt Blitz is a history and travel writer. His work has been featured on CNN, Atlas Obscura, Curbed, Nickelodeon, and Today I Found Out. He also runs the Obscura Society DC and is a big fan of diners.

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