A meteorite crashed into an engineering college in Vellore district on Saturday , causing an explosion that killed one man and injured three others, the Tamil Nadu government said on Sunday.
Scientists, however, said it wasn’t clear how the government concluded that a meteorite strike caused the blast. There has been no established death due to a meteorite hit in recorded history, they said.
If a meteorite indeed caused the death, bus driver Kamaraj will be the first person ever to have died in a meteorite strike. Saturday’s blast also injured two gardeners and a student.
“You have a better chance of getting hit by a tornado and a bolt of lightning and a hurricane all at the same time,” is how astronomer and author of the book, Falling Stars: A Guide to Meteors & Meteorites Michael Reynolds describes the likelihood of such an event in a National Geographic report.
Regardless of the scepticism of experts, chief minister J Jayalalithaa on Sunday said the government would pay compensation of Rs 1 lakh to Kamaraj’s family .The three people injured in the explosion will receive Rs 25,000 each, she said.
Witnesses said the blast left a crater 5ft deep and 2ft wide. Policemen recovered a black, pockmarked stone weighing 11g from the blast site.
A police officer said the department would consult experts from the Indian Institute of Astrophysics in Bengaluru and ask them for a detailed analysis of the stone to ascertain whether it is debris from a meteorite. A team of experts from the institute will visit the site on February 8.
A bomb squad from Chennai took debris samples on Sunday for analysis at Regional Forensic Science Laboratory in Mylapore. Police said preliminary investigation by police forensics experts ruled out the possibility that explosives caused the blast.
“We did not find any trace of explosive substances, so we ruled out the possibility that explosives caused the blast,” an investigating officer said. “We will wait for a final autopsy report on the body of driver Kamaraj and the report from the forensic lab to confirm what triggered the explosion.”
The first person in history that a meteorite is confirmed to have hit was American Ann Hodges, ‘National Geographic’ reported. A softball-size hunk of black rock broke through the ceiling of her house in Sylacauga, Alabama, in November 1954 and hit her in the thigh, leaving a pineapple-shaped bruise. Scientists closely watch space bodies that come to earth and predict in advance when a meteor large enough to stay intact after burning up in the atmosphere is going to hit the planet.
“Organizations like International Meteor Organization have already put out the calendar for 2016 -for the days we can expect meteor showers and if there are any chances of them hitting earth. These occurrences are catalogued for the benefit of stargazers,” said Isro Mars Orbiter Mission project director V Adimurthy.