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Sunday, March 6, 2016

Meteorites and Sudden Death

The piece below was published in our local paper:



Meteorite Kills Man in India?  Maybe not!
By Ellen Tsagaris



Recently, international media was abuzz with a story about a man in India allegedly killed by a meteorite shooting its way to earth.  Supposedly, history was made, since this unfortunate person would have been the first in modern history to have been killed by a meteorite. 

The events occurred in Vellore, state of Tamil Nadu, India, on Saturday February 6, 2016.  Something fell from the sky and crashed into the campus of an engineering college located in Vellore.  A water tank exploded when the object fell, and a bus driver standing close the point of impact, Mr. V. Kamaraj, was killed.  He was going to drink water.  Three others were injured.  The chief minister of Tamil Nadu, Ms. Jayalalithaa Jayaram then proclaimed that the victim was killed by a falling meteorite, according to Delhi correspondent Soutik Biswas of the BBC News. The New York Times reports that there were no predictions of any meteorite showers in the area, and no meteor showers occurred.

Not so, said NASA.  Among other things, the rock recovered nearby was too small to kill someone, and crater left by whatever object fell was not the kind that meteorites leave.  For one thing, there were no fragments surrounding it. Besides the folks at NASA, other scientists, including one investigating the site of the crash in India have voiced skepticism.  The rock discovered at the scene has not been analyzed yet, but it is small enough to fit in the palm of one’s hand; Derek Sears, meteorite and asteroid expert at NASA’s Space Science Division observed that a stone that killed some one should have been larger.

At this point, it looks like the falling object was space junk that entered the earth’s atmosphere.

Meteorite falls are fairly common, but they usually land at sea or unpopulated areas.  Movies and science fiction, however, are full of apocalyptic stories of meteorites, or their larger relatives, Asteroids, hitting the earth causing death and destruction.  The myth of the meteorite fall is alive and well in popular culture, yet a meteorite did land in Russia in a major metropolitan area in Chelyabinsk region in 2013.  Some 100 people were injured, and there was a lot of property damage, but no deaths. That meteor weighted 10 metric tons and was several yards in diameter.

There are unconfirmed reports of perhaps five or six people killed in China over 1000 years ago, and another about someone killed in India 200 years ago. There is also a historical claim of someone in Ancient Egypt being killed by a meteorite. There are many other unsubstantiated international reports of animal deaths, and property damage, by meteorite falls.

In 1954, a rare confirmed report notes that a woman in Alabama was badly bruised by an actual meteorite that crashed through her roof into her bedroom. That meteorite weighed 9 pounds.

So what are meteorites?  According to New England Meteoritical Services, they are pieces of “other bodies’ in the solar system that fall to earth when “a meteor or ‘shooting star’ flashes through our atmosphere” at speeds of 32,000 to 150,000 miles per hour.  Most are created when asteroids collide. A few fall from the moon, and the rest from other planets, comets, and a very rare few from Mars.  For example, around 60,000 meteorites have been found on Earth; only 124 have been confirmed to be Martian. The oldest are chondrites, stone meteorites formed 4.56 billion years ago.  The other very rare type of stone meteorite is called an achondrite.  Because of their rarity and primitive origins, meteorites are sought after by collectors and scientists. 

































References

“All about meteorites.” Armagh Planetarium. Retrieved from http://
            armaghplanet.com/html/meteorites.html.

Biswas, Soutik. “Did a meteorite kill a man in India?” Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-35538484.

Hauser, Christine. “That wasn’t a meteorite that killed a man in India, NASA says.”
            Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/10/world/asia/that-wasnt-
            a-meteorite-that-killed-a-man-in-india-sasa-says.html?_r=0.

Majumdar, Roshni, et al. CNN.  Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2016/02/10/asia/india-metorite-ma n-kille/index.html.

Malhotra, Aditi. “Meteorite milled man at Indian college, says Chief Minster.”
            The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from http://blogs/wsj.com/indiarealtime/
            2016 /02/08/meteorite-kiled-man-at-indian-college-says-chief-minister/tab/p . . .

Mars Meteorites. NASA. Retrieved from http://www2.jpl.nasa.gov/snc/index.html.

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