Wolfe Creek Crater is a well-preserved meteorite impact crater located in the flat plains of the northeastern edge of the Great Sandy Desert in Western Australia, some 150 km south of the town of Halls Creek. The crater is considered the second largest in the world from which meteorite fragments have been collected, after the famous Barringer Crater in Arizona. Because of its excellent preservation, the crater clearly shows the classic features that result from a large meteorite striking the Earth.
Wolfe Creek Crater measures roughly 880 meters in diameter, and the mostly flat crater floor sits some 55 meters below the crater rim and some 25 meters below the sand plain outside of the crater. At the crater’s center, the ground rises slightly. Here grows some surprisingly large trees that draw moisture from the crater’s water reserves that remain after summer rains.
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The crater was formed 300,000 years ago when a meteorite weighing more than 50,000 metric tons struck the Earth at an estimated 15 kilometers per second. The impact punctured a hole on the surface and shattered rocks well below the ground surface, and the intense heat of the impact liquefied both the meteorite and the nearby terrestrial rocks. These rocks now take the form of rusted balls of iron-shale that occur in the vicinity. These balls can weigh as much as 250 kilograms apiece.
The Wolfe Creek Crater had been known for long by Australia’s Aboriginal people before it was identified by aerial survey in 1947. The locals refer to the crater as “Gandimalal” and it is prominent in art from the region. The European name for the crater comes from a nearby creek, which was in turn named after Robert Wolfe, a prospector and storekeeper during the gold rush that established the town of Halls Creek.