Friday, March 14, 2008

meteorite impact... or something else?

last year in a dry riverbed in peru an object struck the surface of the earth, gouging out a crater 15m in diameter. People up to 20 kilometers from the crater reported hearing an explosion – presumably the impact. Windows were shattered at the local health center a kilometer from the site. Locals who visited the hole complained of headaches, nausea, and a foul sulphuric smell. a cloud of dust and vapor released by the impact drifted downwind and was blamed for the death of livestock.

the news media speculated wildly until a seemingly unsubstantiated consensus was reached that the back-woods Peruvians were afflicted only with mass hysteria. the story was shuffled off the front pages. but it turns out that the mystery goes deeper.

most meteorites that actually make it to the surface of the earth are metallic objects that are able to deform into more aerodynamic shapes as they plummet through the atmosphere. however, a team of researches who were dispatched to the site found evidence that this crater was not caused by a metallic meteorite but a stony meteorite.

essentially big space rocks, stony meteors always break up in the atmosphere, and if a small piece makes it through it has usually been slowed down by the thick air. the impact has the force of a bowling ball dropped from an airplane. a divet, not a crater results. based on how far dirt was thrown and the shape of the crater, this object was traveling at approximately 15,000mph when it hit. at those speeds any stony meteor would have fragmented and incinerated as it passed through the atmosphere.

Peter Schultz a geologist from Brown University investigated the site.
“This just isn’t what we expected,” Schultz said. “It was to the point that many thought this was fake. It was completely inconsistent with our understanding how stony meteorites act... this meteorite kept on going at a speed about 40 to 50 times faster than it should have been going.”

So what was this object? too fast and too big to be a stony meteor, not enough iron to be a metallic meteor, and apparently the cause of illness and animal death. a scuttled spy satellite? an errant missile? the first volley of attack from an alien force unleashing a new strain of microbe?

we don't know

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