Thursday, September 20, 2007

Meteorite crash in Peru causes sickness

This news is very strange and unexplained. No one knows for sure what causes people's illness...

What happened?

On Saturday (Sept 15) night locals saw a fireball falling from the sky and heard it smash into the desolate Andean plain close to Carancas, near the Bolivian border. (Carancas is about 1,300km / 800miles south of Peru capital Lima.)

The orange streak and loud bang were initially thought to be a plane crashing. When villagers went to investigate, they discovered a crater around 13 meter wide and 5 meter deep. (Note: different articles have slightly different crater sizes.)

After the meteorite struck, small rocks rained down. Water in the meteorite's muddy crater boiled for approx. 10 minutes giving out gases. Villagers had also smelled a sulfurous odor for at least an hour after the meteorite struck.

Soon after, many began to complain of headaches, vomiting and sore throats. Farm animals were also affected - left staggering, gasping and with eyes watering.

At least seven police officers were affected after they collected samples from the landing site.

Jorge Lopez, director of the health department in the state where the meteorite crashed, said on Sept 18 that 200 people suffered headaches, nausea and respiratory problems caused by "toxic" fumes emanating from the crater. Mr. Lopez said that despite wearing a mask while he approached the crater, fumes irritated his nose and throat.

"The odour is strong and it's affecting nearby communities. There are 500 families close by and they have had symptoms of nausea, vomiting, digestive problems and general sickness," said Mr López.

(Note: The number of people got sick is different in different news articles. Some articles mentioned 200 people. Some articles mentioned 500 families. Some articles mentioned 600 people.)

Is it really Meteorite?

Jose Mechare, a scientist with Peru's Geological, Mining and Metallurgical Institute, said a geologist had confirmed that it was a "rocky meteorite," based on the analysis of fragments taken form the crater created by the crash.

Volcanologist for Peru's Geological, Mining and Metallurgical Institute (INGEMMET), Luisa Macedo, confirmed that a chondrite meteorite had caused deep crater when it landed on earth.

Astrophysicist Jose Ishitsuka of Peru's Geophysics Institute recovered a 7.6-centimetre magnetic fragment and said it contained iron, a mineral found in all rocks from space. The impact also registered a magnitude-1.5 tremor on the institute's seismic equipment - that's as much as an explosion of 4.5 tonnes of dynamite, Ronald Woodman, the institute's president, said.

Any Radiation?

Doctors told an Associated Press Television News cameraman at the site that they had found no sign of radioactive contamination among families living nearby.

Peruvian Nuclear Energy Institute engineer Renan Ramirez said a team of scientists found no radiation at the crash site and confirmed that the crater was not created by a fallen satellite. "If it had been the case (a satellite crash), the strike would have let out radiation and contaminated the area," he said.

What caused the sickness?

The illnesses that struck the local population may have been caused by sulfur, arsenic or other toxins that may have melted in the extreme heat produced by the meteorite strike.

But a team of doctors sent to the isolated site, 3 1 /2 hours from the state capital of Puno, said they found no evidence the meteorite had sickened people. Modesto Montoya, a member of the team, was quoted as saying doctors also had found no sign of radioactive contamination among families living nearby, but had taken blood samples from 19 people to be sure. He said fear may have provoked psychosomatic ailments. "When a meteorite falls, it produces horrid sounds when it makes contact with the atmosphere," he told the paper. "It is as if a giant rock is being sanded. Those sounds could have frightened them."

Meteor expert Ursula Marvin said that if people were sickened, "it wouldn't be the meteorite itself, but the dust it raises."


Justina Limache, 74, told El Comercio that when she heard the thunderous roar from the sky, she abandoned her flock of alpacas and ran to her small home with her eight-year-old granddaughter. She said that after the meteorite struck, small rocks rained down on the roof of her home for several minutes and she feared the house was going to collapse.

"Even before it fell, there was a strong sound, like an airplane," recalled Marina Llanqui Mamani, 53. "And when it hit, it felt like an earthquake. Everyone was terrified. Even my animals were running all around. ... Then there was a loud noise and a lot of smoke."

Any aliens?

Local news reports said two "calcium life-forms" were found in the crater. One excited radio reporter said: "They think they've found spacemen." The bodies turned out to be the remains of dead animals buried before the object hit.

What does other people think?

Dr Caroline Smith of the Natural History Museum in London, said: "It's the third incident like this in Peru in the last few years - and none have turned out to be meteorites. "It's far more likely to have a been caused by the explosion of gases that build up naturally under the ground. "In that part of Peru, you might get a build up of methane or hydrogen sulphide, both of which have an eggy smell and which could cause health problems." She suspects the light in the sky seen around the time of the crash was unrelated and was probably caused by a fireball - a large meteor that produces a spectacular display as it burns up in the sky.

Based on Wired Science, mid sized meteorites are not hot. First, meteoroids are naturally cold. They've been out in the frigid blackness of space for many billions of years -- these rocks are cold down to their very center. Second, because of its size there's a good chance that this meteorite was originally part of a larger meteor that broke up anywhere between 60 and 30km above the surface. If that is the case, the larger meteor's cold interior would become the smaller meteor's cold exterior. Since hardly any surface heating takes place lower than about 30km, this cold surface doesn't warm up by any appreciable amount. Some meteorites, located soon after landing, have actually been reported to have frost on the surface due to their still cold interior.
And even if the meteor didn't break apart, it would have about 3 millimeters of hot fusion crust on the surface being rapidly cooled down by 100kgs of cold stone. It is very rare to find a meteor that's too hot to be picked up with the bare hands right after landing. As a result, the boiling water at the crater site is strange.

Fox News
Globe and Mail
New York Times
Associated Press
Canadian Press
Daily Mail
Telegraph UK
New York Times
Wired Science

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