A giant crack in Kenya opens up, but what's causing it?

WASHINGTON -- A giant crack in the Earth opened up almost overnight, 50 feet deep and at its widest 65 feet across, slicing through a highway and terrifying many who live in an area just west of Nairobi, Kenya.

So what caused it? Well, it depends which scientist you ask.

"We're seeing a crack that in all likelihood formed over many thousands of years or hundreds of thousands of years," said Ben Andrews, a geologist with the Smithsonian.

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Scientists differ on what they believe is causing a giant crack to open in the Earth in Kenya CBS News

Some scientists, like Andrews, believe that the crack was recently exposed by a rainstorm. But he says its true cause goes deeper, and that it was created by the movement of the Earth's tectonic plates, sections of the Earth's crust that move about one inch a year. In 50 million years, he says Africa may split in two.

Other scientists, like earthquake geologist Wendy Bohon, agree that Africa is slowly splitting in two, but she thinks the gash was created in a flash.

"I think it's an Earth fissure, the same sort of thing that you see in Arizona after heavy rain storms," Bohon said. "They're the result of heavier torrential rains that come and wash away large portions of the dirt in the ground. To me it looks pretty cut and dry. It wasn't a result of the tectonics, it was the result of the weather."

A mysterious gash in the Earth at the very spot where Africa is being slowly torn apart.

  • Chip Reid

    Chip Reid is CBS News' national correspondent.