Des Plaines, IL

The biggest impact crater in Illinois is just 20 miles from Chicago

Jennifer Geer

Just 20 miles from Chicago, where the suburb of Des Plaines sits now, a massive meteor hit the Earth around 280 million years ago.

(CHICAGO) A 5.5-mile wide impact crater sits underneath the peaceful suburb of Des Plaines. However, you can't plan an outing to go see it. It's buried 75 to 200 feet underground.

What caused the Des Plaines Crater?

An asteroid or meteorite crashed from space into the Earth going incredibly fast. It landed right in the spot where today Dempster Street crosses Interstate Highway 294.

Scientists estimate the object to have been around 1,300 feet across. For reference, that's about the same as the height of the Trump International Hotel and Tower in downtown Chicago at 1,388 feet.

What happened after it hit?

When a solid object impacts the ground at that high of a speed, it vaporizes and creates shockwaves. The shockwaves actually melted and recrystallized rock. The only evidence that remains is an enormous circular hole in the ground and the reformed rocks.

The amount of energy from the meteor that hit Des Plaines would have been equivalent to several thousand hydrogen bombs that all exploded at the same time. The result would have been a fireball, shockwaves, and an earthquake.

How do we know it's there?

In the 1890s, water well drillers noticed anomalous conditions in the rock, but it wasn't until the 20th century that scientists identified the location of the crater through geological surveys of shattered rock layers.

Can you see any evidence of the crater?

No, when the meteor first hit it would have left a large hole from impact. However, the area was covered by glaciers millions of years ago burying the crater.

Today, we would never know it was there without conducting geological surveys of the rock formations underneath the city.

What would happen if this size meteor struck Des Plaines today?

Scientist William Higgins of Fermilab wrote an article in the 1990s about the crater. According to Higgins, this impact today would cause most of Des Plaines (and Niles, Morton Grove, Park Ridge, and Glenview along with it) to be blown into the sky, and a pressure wave would flatten buildings as far away as Milwaukee.

What are the odds Chicago will be hit today by a meteor this size?

The odds are extremely low. An asteroid sized around 200 feet is likely to hit Earth every 1,500 years. The meteor the size of the one that hit Des Plaines, only every 100,000 years.

Further, the likelihood of death by a meteor is very low. Michael Reynolds, a Florida State College astronomer told National Geographic, "You have a better chance of getting hit by a tornado and a bolt of lightning and a hurricane all at the same time."


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Jennifer covers lifestyle content and local news for the Chicago area.

Chicago, IL

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