Impact cratering is an important and unique geologic process. The high speeds, forces and temperatures involved are quite unlike conventional endogenic processes, and the environmental consequences can be catastrophic. Kilometre-scale craters are excavated and collapse in minutes, in some cases distributing debris around the globe and exhuming deeply buried strata. In the process, rocks are deformed, broken, heated and transformed in unique ways. Elevated temperatures in the crust may persist for millennia, and important chemical reactions are promoted by the extreme environment of the impact plume. Released gases may cause long-term perturbations to the climate, and impact-related phosphorus reduction may have played a role in the origin of life on Earth.