Did meteorite kill Indian? Scientists not sure, but call it rarest incident if proven

(From agencies)

Indian Scientists have their own doubts as they started examining whether a small dark blue object that fell from the sky killing a man in southern India was a meteorite.

The spot where the meteroite landed at the engineering college campus near Vellore in southern India

The spot where the meteorite landed at the private engineering college campus near Vellore in southern India

If scientifically proven, it would be the first meteorite fatality in recorded history.

Scientists say the small crater, the absence of a sonic boom before impact, a lack of debris and the green and blue colour of rock recovered from the scene do not point to a meteorite but some other cause.

“It is highly improbable, but we will only be absolutely sure after a chemical analysis,” said V. Adimurthy, a senior scientist at India’s space agency.

On Feb. 6 around 12:30 pm local time (2 am E.T.), the object slammed into the ground at a private engineering college near Vellore city in Tamil Nadu state shattering a water cooler and sending splinters and shards flying.

Police say a bus driver standing on the grass near the college’s cafeteria was hit by the debris and he died while being taken to a hospital.

A student and two gardeners standing nearby were injured.

College principal G. Bhaskar said he heard a loud thud from his office, where several window panes shattered when the object hit the ground.

The incident prompted college officials to cancel classes until Wednesday.

Local officials and scientists examined the 5-foot-wide (2-meter-wide) crater formed by the impact of the object’s crash but they are not sure whether the object came from outer space or from a passing airplane or a man-made satellite.

NASA has yet to confirm whether the mysterious object is indeed a meteorite. “Our Planetary Defense Coordination Office is aware of the reports and is looking into it,” said Laurie Cantillo, a NASA spokeswoman. “So at this point, the report is unconfirmed.”

However, New York Times said NASA scientists were more emphatic, saying in a public statement that the photographs posted online were more consistent with “a land-based explosion” than with something from space.

“It is so rare, there has never been a scientifically confirmed report of someone being killed by a meteorite impact in recorded history,” Lindley Johnson, NASA’s Planetary Defense Officer, told Live Science in an email. “There have been reports of injuries, but even those were extremely rare before the Chelyabinsk event three years ago.”

In February 2013, a meteor blazed across southern Urals that scientists said was the largest recorded strike in more than a century. More than 1,600 people were injured by the shock wave and property damage was widespread in the Siberian city of Chelyabinsk.

However, most meteorites land in remote places, including a 3.5-lb. (1.6 kilograms) rock researchers found in the Australian Outback shortly after it crash-landed on Earth on Nov. 27, 2015.

Witnesses of the latest incident near Vellore said the window panes of the engineering college building were shattered by the impact of the blast. Several buses parked nearby were also damaged and bits of glass from broken windows lay strewn inside the buses.

The hard, jagged dark blue object that came crashing down is small enough to be held in a closed hand. The scientists used metal detectors to check the crater for the presence of metals in the rock fragments and dug up the soil.

“The object that police have recovered from the site would have to undergo chemical analysis” to confirm its origin, said the dean of the institute, Prof. G.C. Anupama.

She said that while it was rare for meteors to reach the ground before burning up in the atmosphere, it happens.

Tamil Nadu state’s chief minister J. Jayalalithaa said the bus driver had been killed by a meteorite and offered a compensation of $1,470 to his family.

The student and two gardeners injured in the incident would each get $368.

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