The Vredefort Dome is located at the centre of the largest meteorite impacted site found on earth. Vredefort Dome is the oldest astrobleme on earth which dates back to 2,023 million years. It is situated about 120 km from south-west Johannesburg. Due to its geological importance, the Vredefort dome was designated as UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005. The Vredefort Dome is also known as Vredefort crater and gets its name from the town of Vredefort located near the centre of the site. The significance of the site lies in its numerous geological evidences providing a detailed study of an asteroid impacted structure.
The asteroid having a diameter of about 5-10 km is presumed to be the largest meteorite striking earth some 2000 million years ago. The crater caused by the asteroid measures to a diameter of about 300km. This make it larger than the other known craters such as the Chicxulub crater having a radius of 170 km and the Sudbury Basin having a diameter of 200km. The Vredefort Dome is the second oldest crater on earth, the oldest being Suavjarvi meteorite crater in Russia. Recently a larger crater has been detected under the ice in Wilkes Land, Antarctica, but the facts about this crater have yet to be verified and recognized.
Vredefort Dome is an important heritage site in South Africa. Vredefort Dome may not be on the list of tourist attractions for many tourists but it would be a place of interest for those wishing to know about the history and origin of our planet. A qualified guide would provide useful insights about the happenings in the place nearly 2,023 million years back. The Vredefort Dome is at a short distance from the N1 highway going towards Cape Town. The site is slowly emerging as a adventure tourism site with many activities being developed nearby for hikers, campers, rock climbers and rafters.
The dome created in the centre of the crater was originally thought to be the result of a volcanic explosion but geological surveys proved that the site was subject to a meteorite impact. The Vredefort Dome with its unique multi-ringed structure makes it one of its kinds on earth though such impact craters are common in the Solar System, found on Jupiter’s moon and Earth’s moon. Earlier multi-ring craters which have been formed on earth have largely been destroyed by erosion and other such geological processes.
Many landowners belonging to the Vredefort area have formed the Vredefort Dome Conservancy to protect the area. The area of the Vredefort Dome includes major geological sites which stand testimony to the structure impacted by the meteorite phenomena. The site is protected by a buffer zone extending to about 5km to protect the main area from any external developments. Various legal acts are in place to protect the property which includes the National Environmental Management Act, the Environmental Conservation Act, and the Physical Planning Act among others. Such laws ensure that the Vredefort Dome comes under a protected zone, keeping a check on prospecting and mining activities within the buffer zone of the site.