Earth Impacts

Part of Hall of Meteorites.

Earth Impacts section at the Hall of Meteorites showcasing meteorites and text. C. Chesek/©AMNH

Many of these impacts initially left behind craters, ranging from small pits to huge cavities dozens of miles across. Yet so far, people have found only about 200 meteorite impact craters.

Most of Earth's craters have been erased by the resurfacing processes of tectonic plates, the massive slabs that make up Earth's crust. Other craters have been buried beneath mud, lava or blowing sand, hidden beneath oceans or weathered away by wind and water.

Craters come in many sizes, just like the meteorites that make them. The largest objects that hit Earth explode upon impact and leave huge craters, while the smallest ones leave no craters at all. But for sizes in between, the results are harder to predict. For example, the 60-ton iron mass called Hoba did not explode and left no crater.

Earth's known impact craters

Earth map showing location of crater. The three areas with more impacts are North America, northern Europe and Australia.
Meteorite and comet impacts have left about 200 named craters on Earth. They range in size from Carancas Crater in Peru, smaller than the width of this hall, to the largest of all—Vredefort Crater, a barely recognizable ring of mountains in South Africa 300 kilometers (186 miles) across.

During Earth's 4.5 billion year history, countless meteorites have crashed onto the planet.