Ancient Asteroid That Struck Earth May Have Been 36 Miles Across

Apr 10, 2014 10:18 AM EDT | Jordan Ecarma

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Stanford researchers have modeled the giant asteroid they believe hit Earth 3.26 billion years ago, estimating that the massive space rock measured as much as 36 miles across.

The scientists examined ancient rocks in the Barberton Greenstone region in South Africa, where they have found evidence of the asteroid in the area's jumble of ancient rocks, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

"There's widespread evidence that the asteroid's impact caused the ground to fail from earthquakes everywhere around the world," said Norman H. Sleep, the Stanford astrophysicist who modeled the event, as quoted by the Chronicle.

"The sky would be red hot from vaporized rocks thrown into the air, everything on the ground would be incinerated, and the oceans would become steam that rained back on Earth for at least a year."

Scientists say that asteroids were impacting our planet for around 250 million years. This massive asteroid in particular is estimated to have left an impact crater that was at least 300 miles across. The Stanford team puts its rate of speed at 12 miles per second when it struck Earth and its measurement between 23 and 36 miles across.

Researchers have been identifying asteroid locations through the rare element iridium, which is common in asteroids but hardly ever found on Earth.

Around 30 years ago, UC Berkeley geologist Walter Alvarez found a similar iridium layer that supported his theory that the dinosaurs perished after a huge asteroid hit the Earth around 65 million years ago.  

While scientists have found evidence of a massive asteroid that would have punctured Earth's crust and caused earthquakes worldwide, they have yet to discover the exact location of the giant space rock's impact.

The asteroid modeling study will be published in the next issue of the American Geophysical Union's journal, Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems

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