Ferry travellers passing between Stornoway and Ullapool could have been sailing over a massive asteroid impact crater, left in the earth’s crust millennia ago, according to scientists from Oxford and Aberdeen universities.

A paper published yesterday (Sunday June 9th) in the Journal of the Geological Society explains how rock types from a large area of Scotland’s North West coast point to an impact, with the impact location gradually being narrowed down as geologists research further.

The paper’s authors, led by Oxford University’s Dr Ken Amor, say that none of the volcanic theory explanations for specific rocks around the west coast of Scotland and in Lewis itself adequately explain the exact composition of the rocks. The way in which the rock formations fold and fan out point to a process of movement in a “blanket surrounding an unidentified asteroid impact crater.”

This volcanic-like material has been found in locations including the Stoer peninsula and Poolewe. Analysing how it is distributed, how it may have formed and tracing back its origins to a geographical source allowed the scientists to close in on a possible location for the impact – and its most likely site is in the middle of the Minch.

The authors write: “Combining all the directional evidence presented in this paper we estimate the position of the impact crater to be in the Minch Basin about 15–20 km WNW of Enard Bay… Our prediction for the impact crater location is based on a variety of geological observations and magnetic susceptibility information.”

The paper’s authors are hoping that funding can be found to commission a seismic survey of the Minch seabed, in the hope that the impact crater can be found, buried deep beneath millions of years of layered rock and sediment.

Picture shows some of the rock formations which give clues to an impact location (Dr Ken Amor/Oxford University)