Meteorite mayhem, Part I

Contributed by
Sep 18, 2007

According to AdelaideNow (Australia), a meteorite fell on a village in Peru, and now the villagers are complaining of all manners of sickness:

Around midday Saturday, villagers were startled by an explosion and a fireball that many were convinced was a plane crashing near their remote village, in the high Andes department of Puno in the Desaguadero region, near the border with Bolivia.

Residents complained of headaches and vomiting brought on by a "strange odour," local health department official Jorge Lopez told Peruvian radio RPP.

Seven policemen who went to check on the reports also became ill and had to be given oxygen before being taken to hospital, Mr Lopez said.

Rescue teams and experts were dispatched to the scene where the meteorite had left a crater 30m wide and 6m deep, said local official Marco Limache.

"Boiling water started coming out of the crater and particles of rock and cinders were found nearby. Residents are very concerned," he said.

Interesting. Typically, you don't get small craters (like a meter across) because the meteorite needed to produce something in that size range would be so small that it wouldn't be moving very quickly when it hit the ground (200 kph or so). Big craters, hundreds of meters across, are formed when a big object hits at hypersonic speeds, because the air doesn't slow them down much. Craters intermediate in size are very rare, as far as I seen; an object, say, 10 meters across will still be moving at quite a clip when it hits, but not at hypersonic speeds. So the crater size makes me suspicious; I wouldn't expect a flaming meteorite at that size... but I won't rule it out with my limited knowledge.

The smoke and other effects make me very suspicious indeed. You just don't get that sort of thing from a meteorite! Maybe this was space debris, a satellite re-entering. Or it was misreported. Or maybe it was something else. I'll keep my eyes open for more news; add a comment if you hear more. Boing Boing has an image of the crater.

Part II coming soon.

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