Recent Meteorite Death Doubtful (Updated)

UPDATE March 3, 2016: “no definite proof to conclude that it was a meteorite fall.”

The small crater left by the explosion in Vellore, Tamil Nadu, India: image credit Daily News Pakistan

 

Tamil Nadu Blast Fragment
A blurry photo of the object found at the blast site. (credit: Daily News Pakistan)

On February 6, 2016 is was reported that a meteorite had crashed into the campus of the Bharathidasan Engineering College in Vellore, Tamil Nadu, India. The resulting explosion blew out window panes from buildings and vehicles and left a two meter wide crater in the ground. Three people were injured by flying glass and one of them, Mr V. Kamaraj later died of his injuries.

A small metallic fragment was retrieved from the blast site and is currently being analyzed by scientists and the local authorities. But even before the results of the tests come back, astronomers believe that the explosion was terrestrial in nature.

The event happened in a district of four million people. There was no reported sighting of any fireball or even a bright light in the sky that we would expect to see from such an object. Nor was there any noise in the skies above prior to the explosion. No other suspected meteor fragments have been reported and the object that was recovered does not look like a meteor fragment at all.

Most likely the explosion was man-made in nature. We will update this story as more information comes forward.

 

UPDATE March 3, 2016: Scientists from the National Physical Laboratory in Ahmedabad have released this statement. “There is no definite proof to conclude that it was a meteorite fall. The samples given to us do not have the properties of a meteorite. May be, we are looking at the wrong samples. The footage from surveillance cameras, eyewitness accounts and nature of injuries certainly point to something serious. It is likely that something fell from the space. Whether it bounced off or got scattered has to be seen”

Tamil Nadu Meteorite Close Up
A close up of the Tamil Nadu Meteorite (credit National College, Tamil Nadu

 

No Proven Human Deaths from Meteorites
Although there have been many stories in recorded human history of injuries, deaths and devastation caused by falling objects from the sky, there has been no verified deaths by meteorites.

There are a surprising number of stories of people, families, armies and entire towns being decimated by objects that have fallen from the sky. Historians have found written tales of human devastation caused by other-worldly objects striking the Earth as early as 1420 BC.

However to prove that these deaths were caused by an object from space striking the ground you first need to find the object that caused it. If you add up most of the tens of thousands of deaths blamed on meteorites, we can find no trace of the impact or any physical samples of the objects involved.

Then there are cases where we can find proof of an impact, but doctors can not conclusively prove that a death resulted from the strike. One of the largest impact events in recorded history is the 1908 explosion near the Stony Tunguska River in Russia. It is believed that either a small comet or meteorite exploded mid-air above the sparsely-populated area, flattening over 2000 square kilometers of forest. Incredibly only two casualties were ever linked to the explosion and after numerous interviews by investigators and the medical community, we believe that these deaths were not related to the blast.

 

Ann Hodges of Sylacauga, Alabama, USA
Doctors examine Ann Hodges of Sylacauga, Alabama, USA. (credit National Geographic Society)

Only One Proven Injury from a Space Rock
The only confirmed record of a human being hit by a meteorite was on November 30, 1954 in Sylacauga, Alabama, USA. 31-year-old Ann Hodges was napping under blankets on her couch when a meteorite suddenly crashed through her roof, bounced across the room and smacked her in the leg; luckily only leaving her with a large bruise. When the local police arrived and handed over the 4kg rock to the United States Air Force, scientist were able to confirm that it was indeed a stony-type meteorite. A slice of the meteorite is currently on display at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC.

On February 15th 2013 at least 7000 buildings and 1500 people were injured when a 20 meter meteor exploded 23 kilometers above the town of Chelyabinsk, Russia. However all injuries were due to the secondary effects of the blast such as flying window glass. No one was directly impacted by any of the meteorite fragments that rained down after the initial air burst.

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