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From the far reaches of space, a bolide (comet or asteroid), 3-5 kilometers in diameter, swooped through the Earth's atmosphere and blasted an enormous crater into the continental shelf. The crater is now approximately 200 km southeast of Washington, D.C., and is buried 300-500 meters beneath the southern part of Chesapeake Bay and the peninsulas of southeastern Virginia..
The asteroid or comet that struck the area that later became the Chesapeake Bay may be evidence of a 2 million-year-long comet shower that scientists think may have occurred between 36 and 34 million years ago. An even bigger crater in Popigai, northern Siberia, was created at about the same time. Scientists also have found traces of helium 3, an isotope associated with extraterrestrial objects, in sediment layers in Massignano, Italy, and other places dating to 35 million years ago.
After the meteorite hit, water blasted out of the area and then sucked in whatever would fill its enormous chasm. Sediments laid down over 35 million years filled in the area in a jumble and compacted the crater debris. Despite all of the matter that was brought into the crater, it continues to be a low spot in the floor of what is now the Chesapeake Bay.
Water flows to the lowest ground, and rivers are no exception. The Rappahannock, York and James rivers turned toward the crater, as they continue to do today. Without the crater, the Virginia port of Hampton Roads would not exist. Without it, the shores of the world's greatest military harbor would simply have been cut through by the relentless drain of the James on its way to the sea.