NASA discounts meteorite theory, Indian institute says analysis on

Scientists at the US space agency NASA have discounted reports that an Indian bus driver in Tamil Nadu was killed by a meteorite, but Indian experts said this can only be ruled out after "detailed analysis".

Authorities inspect the site of a suspected meteorite landing in Vellore. AFP

Authorities inspect the site of a suspected meteorite landing in Vellore. AFP

Only a detailed analysis of the object that has been received from the Vellore police can tell whether it is a meteorite or not, said a senior official of Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIA).

"The IIA team has received a sample from the local police. The nature of the object can be ascertained only after a detailed analyses by experts," IIA dean G.C.Anupama told IANS on Wednesday.

A senior scientist from Indian Institute of Astrophysics’ Vainu Bappu Observatory at Kavalur received the only evidence of the Vellore meteorite incident — a “dark bluish” stone weighing roughly 10 gm — from Tamil Nadu police on Tuesday, reports The Indian Express.

Kamaraj, employed as a driver with Bharathidasan Engineering College in Natrampalli in Vellore district, around 170 km from Chennai, was killed and three others were injured in an explosion after a burning object fell from the sky on February 6.

Police said Kamaraj and others were hit by splinters due to the impact of the unknown object which also created a three-feet wide crater.

The BBC reports that scientists believe the most likely cause could be an object falling from an aircraft.

Police said the fragments of material embedded in Kamaraj's body had been sent for forensic analysis and the post-mortem report would be finalised only after the receipt of the analysis report.

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J.Jayalalithaa had announced a solatium of Rs.100,000 to Kamaraj's family saying he lost his life due to meteorite hit.

Anupama said: "Most meteoroids (as the object is known before it impacts the Earth) disintegrate as they traverse through the Earth's atmosphere, but a few can disrupt giving rise to several meteorites - as the object is known once it impacts the Earth.

But NASA scientists held that online photographs of the site of the suspected meteorite hit in a college campus on Saturday were more consistent with "a land based explosion" than with something from space, the New York Times reported on Tuesday.

Early reports included images of a crater, five feet deep and two feet wide. Witnesses described hearing an explosion, and police recovered a black, pockmarked stone from the site in Vellore.

Lindley Johnson, NASA's planetary defence officer, told the US daily in an email that a death by meteorite impact was so rare that one has never been scientifically confirmed in recorded history.

"There have been reports of injuries, but even those were extremely rare before the Chelyabinsk event three years ago," she said, referring to a 2013 episode in Russia.

In addition, meteorites are often cool to the touch when they land, and the object recovered from the site in India weighed only a few grams and appeared to be a fragment of a common earth rock.

The US daily also cited a scientist at the IIA which is analysing samples of the rock provided by the police as doubting if it was a meteorite.

Deaths and injuries by meteorites are tracked by the International Comet Quarterly, which notes the locations and sizes of meteorites.

Some smash through houses, kill animals and spatter buildings. But deaths have been hard to confirm, the Times said.

In 1908 in Tunguska, Siberia, an apparent "airblast" of an object entering the Earth's atmosphere leveled hundreds of square miles of forest and killed two men and hundreds of reindeer. But no meteorites were recovered, the New York Times said citing the quarterly.

In one of the largest recent events, meteorites or pieces of space rock, fell in Chelyabinsk from a meteor that hit the Earth's atmosphere in February 2013.

About 1,200 people - 200 of them children - were injured, mostly by glass that exploded into schools and workplaces, the Times said, citing Russia's interior ministry.

Another, less likely cause, could be space junk - a piece of space junk, for example, entered the atmosphere just before Christmas, but it is doubtful anything made it to the ground. If it did, it possibly fell into the sea.


Updated Date: Feb 10, 2016 23:58 PM

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