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This image shows the crater Pwyll on Europa, a moon of Jupiter. Do you see the pattern of concentric circles? This pattern is not typical of craters on Earth except for the newly discovered crater in the North Sea.
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Courtesy of NASA

A Crater on Earth that Looks out of this World!
News story originally written on August 14, 2002

Scientists studying the rock layers that lie under the North Sea have found a mysterious crater that looks more like craters on Europa and Callisto, icy moons of Jupiter, than those on Earth.

The crater, called Silverpit, is under layers of rock in the North Sea, about 200 miles from the eastern coast of England. It is twelve miles (20 km) wide and has large concentric rings. A massive meteor about 400 feet across and weighing over 2 million tons would be needed to form a crater this large.

The odd shape of the crater is puzzling to scientists who believe it looks much more like the alien craters of Europa and Castillo than craters of Earth. The concentric circles of the Silverpit crater are unlike any craters on Earth. This gives scientists an opportunity to, while staying close to home, learn more about how these unique shapes form. According to Jay Melosh, a planetary scientist at the University of Arizona, “Silverpit is likely to teach us a great deal about the mechanics of how such ring systems arise.”

The crater is also of interest to scientists because its age. It is 60-65 million years old according to scientists Phil Allen and Simon Stewart, who found the crater. This age is similar to the age of the giant Chicxulub crater whose meteor impact is the widely accepted root of the climate change that ultimately caused the extinction of the dinosaurs and many other living things. Whether the newly discovered Silverpit crater has any relationship to the extinction event is unknown and more research is needed to examine this hypothesis.


Last modified August 14, 2002 by Lisa Gardiner.

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