Crater Discovery Story Flawed by Premature Link to Speculative Impact Hypothesis

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On November 14, 2018, science journalist Paul Voosen reported in the elite journal Science on the discovery of a possible impact crater under Greenland’s ice sheet. The next day on Twitter he described his effort to break the story after learning about it more than a year earlier. But the scientists had chosen to remain silent until they got a paper through peer review and published in the AAAS journal Science Advances, which has very strict embargo rules.

The secret wasn’t all that well kept. I’d been hearing rumors about it for the better part of a year. In July, a downloadable paper about the “Hiawatha meteorite crater”—written by many of the same scientists—was published in the journal Energy Procedia. It described the crater as “the youngest and undoubtedly best-preserved” impact crater on Earth, citing K.H. Kjær, et al., “in revision,” that was finally published in Science Advances in November.

By the time the second paper came out, the first one had been retracted because it “contained partially redundant material [that] was still under consideration at Science Advances.” But the new paper made no claims about a remarkably young age. According to the abstract: “The age of this impact crater is presently unknown … .” The detailed discussion of its age makes it clear that the tentative age constraints only suggest that it formed during the Pleistocene, adding, “we emphasize that even this broad age estimate remains uncertain ... .” In other words, “we don’t really know, but we think it’s younger than about 2.6 million years.”

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