A bus driver in India was killed when a strange rock hit him after an explosion was, for a time, suspected to be the first death by meteorite in recorded history.
But after NASA and local experts took a gander at the evidence, the overwhelming consensus suggests that the man, identified only as Kamaraj, was not killed by a meteorite. Now, his family is left wondering just what did.
The news that the world had witnessed its first death by meteorite came on Saturday and quickly swept through international media, with many headlines proclaiming that the bus driver was killed by an errant space rock. But local experts weren’t immediately convinced.
About noon local time Saturday in Tamil Nadu, Kamaraj went to wash his face at a tap near the parking lot of a college campus during school hours; he was standing in the grass when a mysterious blast hit the area, the Times of India and Live Science reported on Monday. Witnesses said the area was overcome with thick smoke.
“There was a noise like a big explosion,” a witness said. “It was an abnormal sound that could be heard till at least 3 kilometers [about 2 miles] away.”
When it cleared, people reported seeing a crater — quickly photographed — estimated to be five feet deep and two feet wide, the New York Times added. The blast shattered window panes in buses and buildings nearby and injured three other people: a student named Santhosh and two gardeners named Sasi and Murali. The student was reportedly deafened, a condition doctors aren’t sure will be permanent.
At first, police suspected that a bomb had caused the explosion. But then they examined the crater itself and uncovered a “black, pockmarked” stone; other reports described that rock as being “bluish black” in color.
Piece of a meteorite found at a private engineering college in Vellore. One person was dead in the explosion. pic.twitter.com/TON5qzIw7N
— J Sam Daniel Stalin (@jsamdaniel) February 7, 2016
News that the stone was a meteorite, and it had killed the bus driver, spread from there.
The country’s scientists were immediately confused as to how the government determined that the explosion and the driver’s death were caused by a meteorite, mainly because death by meteorite is nearly impossible.
“You have a better chance of getting hit by a tornado and a bolt of lightning and a hurricane all at the same time,” astronomer Michael Reynolds once told National Geographic.
Death by meteorite hasn’t definitively happened once in recorded history. In ancient times, the Chinese recorded deaths by meteorite — and experts aren’t necessarily giving those records much credence. Moving forward from those reports, however, death by meteorite hasn’t been suspected for 1,000 years.
The Indian Institute of Astrophysics came forward as well to refute any report that Kamaraj was felled by a space rock. Their main reason: no meteorite showers were predicted or observed at the time. They are examining the suspected meteorite found in the crater, however.
— USA TODAY (@USATODAY) February 9, 2016
India 'meteorite death' to be probed https://t.co/rwE21oawfk
— BBC News (World) (@BBCWorld) February 9, 2016
NASA went a step further and declared that based on the photographic evidence posted online the explosion Saturday was “land-based.” They also noted that the rock weighed only a few grams and looked like part of a rock commonly found on this planet — not outer space.
Of course, while death by meteorite is unheard of, injury by meteorite isn’t. The space rocks have reportedly crashed through houses, killed animals, and amputated limbs.
The “airblast” of an object that fell to Earth near Siberia in 1908 flattened hundreds of square miles, killed two men and hundreds of reindeer. A meteorite was suspected by never found at the scene. 1954, an Alabama woman was struck in the thigh by a meteorite that fell through the roof of her house. And in 2013, a meteorite crashed into Russia, the explosion injuring 1,200 people when glass shattered in schools and workplaces.
But that’s where the stories end. Back in Tamil Nadu, police are investigating the explosion and crater to figure out just what happened to Kamaraj. They’ve ruled out explosive devices and are awaiting the driver’s autopsy and forensic results to determine the cause of his death.
[Image via Vadim Sadovski/Shutterstock]