Published: 23/09/2016 16:00 - Updated: 22/09/2016 11:11

Lairg asteroid could bring tourism boom

Dr Mike Simms was responsible for the geological detective work which pinpointed the crater underneath Lairg.
Dr Mike Simms was responsible for the geological detective work which pinpointed the crater underneath Lairg.

LAIRG could be in line for a visitor boom in the wake of news that it is the site of one of the earth’s biggest asteroid impacts more than a billion years ago.

The discovery, which has rocked the scientific world, has the potential to do for the area what Nessie has done for Loch Ness, according to local development officer Magda Macdonald.

And she is already planning to make the most of the literally earth-shattering asteroid explosion by staging a mini-exhibition within months and possibly a larger exhibition in the long-term.

Ms Macdonald told the Northern Times earlier this week: “When I heard, I just thought wow! Out of the whole of the earth, this asteroid landed on Lairg. It is just unbelievable.

“This is just my own view and I may be wrong, but I think that for Lairg this will be something like Nessie. Even though you can’t see anything, people will come here. I think it’s a great thing.”

It was announced last week that a 3km wide meteorite struck the location where Lairg is now, some 1.2 billion years ago. The meteorite is now being called the Lairg Asteroid.

Travelling at around 65,000 kilometres an hour, it hit the ground with 75 million times the energy of the atomic bomb that was dropped over Hiroshima and the force of its impact drove it eight kilometres into the earth’s crust.

Debris from the impact was thrown more than 60km.

In the years that followed, the gaping 40km crater left by the asteroid filled with sand and mud and was then covered by a thick layer of younger rock, pushed across northern Scotland 430 million years ago and on top of which Lairg was eventually built.

The discovery of the crater underneath the 900-inhabitant village, on the shores of Loch Shin, was made by Ulster Museum curator Dr Mike Simms.

He visited more than a dozen locations between Stoer and Poolewe, where an unusual depostit had been shown by scientists from Oxford and Aberdeen to have come from a giant meteorite impact.

Dr Simms said: “Only a few patches of this impact deposit remained after millions of years of erosion, so the location of the impact crater from which it came had remained elusive.

“When I visited the area, I found clues that the source of this unique layer – the impact crater – actually lay to the east.”

Dr Simms thought that geophysics might help to locate the crater as the sediment that filled it and the fractured rock beneath it would have a weaker gravitational pull than the denser rock around the crater.

His research led him to a huge gravity anomaly centred on Lairg – similar to gravity anomalies associated with other impact craters around the world.

He told the Northern Times: “The discovery was made by looking at a geophysics map of gravity variations on which the Lairg Gravity Low, as it was already known, was clearly indicated.

“It had already been written about by geologists, but nobody had suggested it was an impact crater nor had any reason to do so because until 2008 this unusual layer was thought merely to be a type of volcanic rock..

“But I was able to make the link between the evidence seen 50 to 60km west in the impact deposit exposed on the coast at Stoer and elsewhere and the huge gravity anomaly beneath Lairg which is just the location that my evidence suggested the crater should be.”

Dr Simms added: “The impact, if it happened today, would devastate pretty much all of Scotland and for some distance beyond, and pretty much wiped out all life for perhaps 200 miles in all directions from Lairg. But 1.2 billion years ago there was nothing much more sophisticated than algal slime!”

His work will be featured in a new series on Channel 4 called Walking Through Time which starts tomorrow.

Ms Macdonald, the development officer for Lairg District Community Initiatives (LDCI), has been in touch with Dr Simms.

She said she hoped to stage a mini-exhibition in the community centre to coincide with the village’s Winterfest on Saturday, November 19.

The exhibition would consist of around eight interpretive panels and graphic designers have already been approached for quotes.

Ms Macdonald is particularly keen to involve local school children and sees it as an educational opportunity for them.

But she  warned that the mini- exhibition would only happen if funding could be found.

She said: “I am looking for funding to cover the design costs and also to pay for proper interpretive panels. I’m hoping there will be funders out there willing to help and that our local windfarm community benefit funds will also want to contribute.

“I am pretty confident we will find the funding but the time scale is important. The exhibition needs to be put together quickly because the interest is out there now, but there is not that many funders that can make awards that quickly.”

Ms Macdonald said she hoped Dr Simms would open the mini-exhibition and explain his findings to the community.

In the longer term, she said it was hoped to look at a more permanent exhibition and ideas would be welcome from local people and businesses as to how to maximise the marketing opportunities for the village of the asteroid strike.

Ms Macdonald said the Lairg Asteroid was already featuring large on specialist sites on the Internet.

“Those interested in this sort of thing are spreading the news fast,” she said.

And she added: “This is the biggest thing that has happened here since the asteroid landed! Really, we still do not appreciate how important this is. It is not something that is tangible but just to know that this happened on this spot is amazing. There is definitely an opportunity here.”

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