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One of the most cratered landscapes on Earth is part of the Nevada desert called Yucca Flat. The craters are the remnants of decades of nuclear tests conducted by the U.S. government since early in the Cold War.

At the Nevada Test Site, located about 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas, 928 nuclear tests took place: 100 were atmospheric and the rest were underground. It’s those underground tests that made the craters—so they are technically not impact craters but subsidence craters.

The flat basin of the Nellis Air Force Gunnery and Bombing Range, which is also filled with arid grasses, forbs, and shrubs, provided security and secrecy for these tests.


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Nov. 17, 1982, Landsat 4 (path/row 40/34) — Yucca Flat, Nevada, USA
Dec. 19, 2020, Landsat 8 (path/row 40/34) — Yucca Flat, Nevada, USA


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References (Earthshot Overview/Parent Only)

Fehner, T.R. and Gosling, F.G., 2006, Atmospheric Nuclear Weapons Testing, 1951-1963. Battlefield of the Cold War: The Nevada Test Site: U.S. Department of Energy, accessed June 21, 2021, at

Grasso, D.N., 2000, Geologic surface effects of underground nuclear testing, Yucca Flat, Nevada Test Site, Nevada: USGS Open-File Report,

Grasso, D.N., 2003, GIS surface effects map archive, Nevada Test Site, Nevada: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2003-151,

Kirkland, L.E., Herr, K.C., Allen, B.M., Adams, P.M., McAfee, J.M., and Keim, E.R., 2004, Mars-Lab—First Remote Sensing Data of Mineralogy Exposed at Small Mars-Analog Craters, Nevada Test Site: Lunar and Planetary Science, v. 35,

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, [n.d.], The Plowshare Program: LLNL, accessed June 21, 2021, at

Nevada National Security Site, [n.d.], NNSS website, accessed June 21, 2021 at

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Ostler, W.K. and Hansen, D.J., 2000, Biodiversity Analysis of Vegetation on the Nevada Test Site. In: McArthur, E. Durant; Fairbanks, Daniel J., comps. 2000. Proceedings: Shrubland Ecosystem Genetics and Biodiversity; 2000 June 13-15; Provo, UT. Proceedings RMRS-P-000. Ogden, UT: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station.

PBS, [n.d.], Atomic Tourism in Nevada: The American Experience, accessed June 21, 2021, at

Taylor, T., 2018, Nevada Test Site Downwinders: Atomic Heritage Foundation, accessed June 21, 2021 at

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