David E. Steitz

Headquarters, Washington, DC

(Phone: 202/358-1730)

Chris Rink

Langley Research Center, Hampton, VA

(Phone: 757/864-6786)

RELEASE: 00-152

The Department of the Interior is drilling a hole in NASA’s
back yard. But officials at NASA’s Langley Research Center in
Hampton, VA, don’t mind. This National Research Laboratory sits on
the edge of a huge crater where both agencies are collecting
geological data from an ancient extraterrestrial event.

Thirty-five million years ago, a two-mile-wide bolide (meteor or
comet) hit the tip of Virginia’s Eastern Shore. When it struck,
the fireball reshaped the land, disrupted the existing water
table, and dislodged deeper sediment to higher levels across a 56-
mile-wide area.

The Department of the Interior’s U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
Chesapeake Bay Impact Crater Project is a multi-year, multi-agency
study of the sombrero-shaped, underground valley. Langley is
located on the outer rim of the York-James Peninsula crater area
and is hosting the USGS research activity. The USGS has been
taking core samples from a planned 2,700-foot-deep drill site
since July.

NASA will benefit from the drilling in the form of an atmospheric
fingerprint left by the bolide’s impact. A senior research
scientist at Langley’s Atmospheric Sciences Competency, Dr. Joel
S. Levine, looks forward to the shared science and agency

“The USGS drilling project at Langley will permit a detailed
investigation of a very significant event in the history of our
planet that affected all four components of the Earth system —
the atmosphere, the ocean, the land, and the biosphere,” said
Levine. “We are working closely with USGS scientists to assess
what new information about the Earth’s early atmosphere may be
obtained from analysis of the cores to be obtained during the

In addition, the USGS Western Earthquake Team is conducting a
seismic reflection and refraction survey. This involves small,
controlled, non-destructive explosions on Langley property to
create underground geological pictures of the rim of the largest
crater in North America.

The crater was discovered after core samples taken off the coast
of New Jersey were compared to ones made in southeastern Virginia.
Along with a petroleum company’s rock formation study made during
an oil search in the Chesapeake Bay, the combined test data
indicated a large crater. The USGS formally announced the
discovery in 1994.

NASA’s participation in this research is part of the agency’s
Earth Science Enterprise, a long-term research program dedicated
to understanding how human-induced and natural changes affect our
global environment.

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Web sites for the Chesapeake Bay Impact Crater Project are at: