Museums NI curator uncovers giant meteor

The first meteorite impact crater to be discovered anywhere in Britain or Ireland has been found beneath Scotland by Ulster Museum curator Dr Mike Simms - and the evidence suggests that it is huge.

By The Newsroom
Wednesday, 21st September 2016, 3:57 pm
Updated Wednesday, 5th October 2016, 2:35 pm
Dr Mike Simms is Curator of Paleontology for National Museums Northern Ireland. The story behind his momentous discovery will be told on Saturday, 24th September, in Walking Through Time at 8pm on Channel 4.
Dr Mike Simms is Curator of Paleontology for National Museums Northern Ireland. The story behind his momentous discovery will be told on Saturday, 24th September, in Walking Through Time at 8pm on Channel 4.

The story behind this momentous discovery will be told on Saturday, September 24, on ‘Walking Through Time’ at 8pm on Channel 4.

Sandwiched between sandstones almost 1.2 billion years old on the north-west coast of Scotland near Ullapool is a distinctive layer that has strange green rock fragments mixed in with the red sand. For decades this layer was thought to be a volcanic mudflow until, in 2008, geologists from Oxford and Aberdeen proved that it actually had been formed by a giant meteorite impact. But only a few patches of this impact deposit remain after millions of years of erosion, so the location of the impact crater from which it came had remained elusive - until now.

Dr Mike Simms, Curator of Paleontology for National Museums Northern Ireland, explains: “When I visited the area on holiday in 2011 I found clues that the source of this unique layer – the impact crater – actually lies to the east. That raised the possibility that the crater might still exist somewhere on the Scottish mainland”. However, if it is still there it must now be deeply buried beneath younger rocks that cover much of northern Scotland. Nonetheless, Dr Simms realised he could use geophysics to locate the huge impact crater.

Topographical map with Lairg gravity anomaly
Meteor impact deposit at Stoer.
Impact deposit and gravity anomaly map.
Topographical map with Lairg gravity anomaly
Meteor impact deposit at Stoer.
Impact deposit and gravity anomaly map.