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Toxic Meteorite?
September 19, 2007 5:58 AM   Subscribe

Meteorite landing confirmed in Peru. Some report illness. Could it be the arrival of the anti-Christ Mabus? Here's what one Doubting Thomas has to say about the whole thing. Some have found it funny.
posted by haunted by Leonard Cohen (58 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
5 bucks says its toxic flatulence caused by people eating too much the local delicacy Cuy chactado.
posted by ItsaMario at 6:11 AM on September 19, 2007


Saw this on the Beeb and couldn't get my head around (a) if it's just a bog-standard meteorite, how come people (and animals, apparently) are falling ill; (b) if it *is* a meteorite, how come it wasn't on any early warning radar things? Aren't all object on near-Earth orbits monitored? (c) if it was a satellite (hence possible toxicity), did anyone know about it or claim it?
posted by Chunder at 6:13 AM on September 19, 2007


They are healthy people, it could be (due to) radiation, we don't know, we are assuming...

Indeed. How many meteorites in history have been known to be radioactive? I'm not counting the classic The Thing That Ate New York.
posted by DU at 6:14 AM on September 19, 2007


Damn missed a word. Quick before the evil spelling nazis get me.......
*too much of the*
posted by ItsaMario at 6:14 AM on September 19, 2007


How dare you besmirch my name.
posted by Henry C. Mabuse at 6:19 AM on September 19, 2007


Impeccable sources you've got there..
"On Saturday night a meteorite crashed into Peru next to Lake Titicaca with an orange streak and a loud bang. The hole filled with water and is giving off smelly noxious odours which are causing the villagers of Carancas, Peru to suffer from nausea and headaches. So far there has been no sighting of Superman.


WWI was triggered by one bullet in Yugoslovia, the shot heard round the world starring Paris Hilton and Tom Cruise. The new President of France is the new Tony Blair. This week his foreign minister, like every American presidential candidate spoke of nuking Iran, Nostradamus’ third anti Christ. Russia, which has been speaking about aiming their nuclear missiles at Europe because of George Bush’s nuclear tipped cruise missiles in the Czech Republic and Poland, today warned the United States not to attack Iran. China also warned George Bush not to attack Iran. "
posted by peacay at 6:24 AM on September 19, 2007


a) Are people and animals falling ill at a higher rate that normal? And in the case of people, is it psychosomatic?

b) Early warning radar things don't track tiny meteors.

c) Do re-entering satellites even survive to hit the ground? Do the sick people report that the "meteorite" they saw looked artificial (albeit burned and melted)?
posted by DU at 6:26 AM on September 19, 2007


I find this hysterical.
posted by srboisvert at 6:26 AM on September 19, 2007


(a) if it's just a bog-standard meteorite, how come people (and animals, apparently) are falling ill

Science has no answer. You'll have to slaugher a chicken in ritual sacrifice and examine the contents of the speen to find out.
posted by three blind mice at 6:28 AM on September 19, 2007 [2 favorites]


Here's the BBC report just for, you know, some wacky perspective.
posted by peacay at 6:29 AM on September 19, 2007


Is it a meteorite or an artificial satellite? If the latter, some have suggested hydrazine as a possible toxic culprit, given the symptoms.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:31 AM on September 19, 2007


Probably good to wait for confirmation...
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:32 AM on September 19, 2007


Repent sinners, the end is near!
posted by caddis at 7:06 AM on September 19, 2007


if it *is* a meteorite, how come it wasn't on any early warning radar things? Aren't all object on near-Earth orbits monitored?

Not objects that would only cause a 17x5 meter crater. That would make for a very small meteorite.
posted by Hubajube at 7:10 AM on September 19, 2007


Between 10 and 12 people have reported dizziness, migraines and in some cases vomiting.

And in the case of people, is it psychosomatic?

Yes.
posted by drinkcoffee at 7:12 AM on September 19, 2007


The first link says it is a chondrite, which is 6 times rarer than iron meteorites. Not sure how they can say this if it has not been recovered. If it is, I wonder what classification of chondrite it is? There is a better picture at spaceweather.com which says: There is indeed a hole in the ground in Peru, pictured above, and by all accounts it smells bad, but it is not likely of cosmic origin. In order to blast a 30-meter crater, a meteorite would have to hit the ground with about as much energy as 1 kiloton of TNT--akin to a tactical nuclear weapon. This would leave a clear signal in worldwide seismic and infrasound records, but so far no such signals are being reported by authorities.

In short, we remain unconvinced. Stay tuned for updates.


If you want to see an un-stinking-believable fireball, check this video out. All-sky shots like this are made by pointing a camera downwards onto a convex mirror (similar to a baby moon hubcap) which gives you 360-degree, horizon to horizon shots. The one in this video appears to have "skipped off" the earth's atmosphere, which is a good thing because it was apparently of a size that would have done some serious damage if hitting land (perhaps similar to the Tunguska Event.
posted by spock at 7:21 AM on September 19, 2007 [2 favorites]


"b) Early warning radar things don't track tiny meteors."

Radar regularly picks up meteors. A lot of the time it is the ionized trail being picked up, but it depends on the system. Radar is used for studying meteors by both academic & government groups.

Space junk in general is carefully monitored. Teeny tiny chunks of particle aren't mapped, but every major piece of near earth junk, natural or man made, is tracked, I believe. I forget what is the smallest size they bother to note. I think they're still tracking the Hasselblad camera Mike Collins lost in orbit during Gemini 10. I believe that's still up there, even though you might imagine it should have decayed. Could be wrong about that, might be a newer bit of clutter I'm thinking of. Another camera was lost on an STS mission, could be confusing it with that.
posted by Henry C. Mabuse at 7:25 AM on September 19, 2007


I WANT TO BELIEVE
posted by psmealey at 7:28 AM on September 19, 2007


For the love of all things holy keep a close eye on the tomatoes.
posted by gomichild at 7:34 AM on September 19, 2007 [1 favorite]




I agree that the link between the fireball, the crater, and the illness is questionable, but meteorites from the Tagish Lake fireball did smell like sulfur.
posted by lukemeister at 7:39 AM on September 19, 2007


Radar regularly picks up meteors.

But they don't track it. The point here isn't the deficiencies of radar, the point is that a tiny meteor isn't worth the trouble.

Teeny tiny chunks of particle aren't mapped, but every major piece of near earth junk, natural or man made, is tracked, I believe.

As someone involved (semi-peripherally) in the tracking, I can tell you that yes, "near earth junk" is tracked. A meteor doesn't really count as "near earth" (i.e. an orbit within the GEO belt) in the technical sense, though.

YouTube version of the video spock mentions. No scale in the video, though, so how can they tell how big it was?
posted by DU at 7:40 AM on September 19, 2007


maBUSH

M = upside-down W (like in the Da Vinci Code) perhaps?
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 7:40 AM on September 19, 2007


Frankly, I'm not sure why there is such skepticism about this being a meteorite (or space junk). If there was no fireball sighting and then a crater was found, that is one thing, but if a fireball was seen on the same night and then the resulting impact site is found in the same general area (Peru) then I think the liklihood of it not being simply caused by swamp gas goes up.

I also think that the immediate dismissal of the reports of illness by some comments here interesting, if not racist. You are skeptical of the (widespread) reports of symptoms as being psychosomatic. I'm skeptical of your ability to diagnose that from your keyboard. One of the people who complained of "irritated throat and itchy nose" was a health director. (Of course he could be one of those, you know, ignorant & superstitious Peruvian health directors. Again, most everyone says that the site smells bad (for whatever reason) so there could be good reason to believe that this is not all in people's heads. What the exact cause/effect may be remains to be seen, but I don't understand the rational basis for the instant cynicism.

I'm wondering, too, how the seismic footprint might have been affected by this falling into such soft muddy soil. It's like registering the seismic difference between a rock falling on a tabletop and a big sponge sitting on that tabletop.
posted by spock at 7:41 AM on September 19, 2007 [3 favorites]


NM on the scale question. From the time it takes to cross the sky, plus an assumed speed, you can get a rough idea of the height and therefore the size. Plus I assume the sky reflector thingie has coordinates on it.
posted by DU at 7:43 AM on September 19, 2007


If it is space junk, I'm sure whatever country that put it up there isn't terribly interested in claiming responsibility.
posted by spock at 7:46 AM on September 19, 2007


The Gods must be crazy.
posted by Poolio at 7:50 AM on September 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


Psychosomatic or 'mass hysteria' causing apparently real physical ailments is extremely common. There are dozens of such cases in the books, spock. From the mad gasser of Mattoon to the origin of the Tarantella dance.

The issue with the meteorite actually physically causing it, is that it would be so phenominally unlikely as to be impossible. Tons, literally, tons of meteorite material has been collected over the last century, none of it carrying any organic material (or at least viable organic material). For that, you need a comet, and this is not a comet.

The idea that illness or such like can be spread by comets is a very old one, and not without some basis (see: theories by Chandra Wickramasinghe, panspermia, etc).

Meteorites, different animal. Meteorite ALH84001 was shown to contain stuff that looked like fossilised microbes, but this is a long way from something viably able to cause illness.

Given that mass hysteric panics simulating real illnesses have a long history in the annals, and meteorite strikes causing illness do not, it is logical to assume that in this case the reports of illness are entirely psychosomatic.

If it churned up some shit in the ground, or burned a goat, or even burned a goatsucker, perhaps that explains it.
posted by Henry C. Mabuse at 7:53 AM on September 19, 2007 [2 favorites]


I didn't watch the video, but I didn't see any skepticism about the existence of a meteorite in the text links.

Likewise, I personally don't have any skepticism that at least some people and animals in Peru are sick. In fact, it's quite likely.

What I find less believable is that they are sick because of a meteorite. Even less believable than that would be a claim of radiation poisoning.
posted by DU at 7:54 AM on September 19, 2007


It's time to film a Spanish language version of The Andromeda Strain.
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:58 AM on September 19, 2007


The crater spewed what officials described as fetid, noxious gases. The portents are unmistakable... Ma Bush is the third Anti-Christ.
posted by Huplescat at 7:58 AM on September 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


Their only hope is to construct a dam and flood the area completely.
posted by jquinby at 8:02 AM on September 19, 2007


Martin Stanford: oh we could be blaming meteorites unfairly in this one, you think?

Dr Phil Bland: It's possible, it's possible that it's just a hole in the ground, yes.

MS: What else would cause a hole in the ground? What are we thinking? Stray munitions? I mean, I suppose it opens up all sorts of consipiracy theories, doesn't it?

PB: It's actually not a terribly big hole, so yeah, it could be, yeah, stray munition, that would be a good one. Or there was a dust storm or something, and then people pointed to this hole in the ground, I don't know.


So, to summarize the possibilities:
Option A: a meteor fell from the sky
Option B: something else fell from the sky
Option C: swirling dust caused people to run around like chickens with their heads cut off and when the dust settled they gaped at some random landscape feature that had always been there
posted by salvia at 8:29 AM on September 19, 2007


Years of disapointment have taught me that it's never aliens.
posted by Artw at 8:36 AM on September 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


Mass hysteria.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 8:40 AM on September 19, 2007


It's funny how people never really worry so much about penis-stealing panics being real.
posted by Artw at 8:50 AM on September 19, 2007 [2 favorites]


Personally, I think the aliens decided to nuke us from orbit. It's the only way to be sure.
posted by Rangeboy at 8:57 AM on September 19, 2007


I also happened to be watching "Mars Attacks" on Encore when this happened. Plate of shrimp.
posted by psmealey at 8:59 AM on September 19, 2007


"Increasingly we think that people witnessed a fireball, which are not uncommon, went off to investigate and found a lake of sedimentary deposit, which may be full of smelly, methane rich organic matter," said Dr Caroline Smith, a meteorite expert at the London-based Natural History Museum.

"This has been mistaken for a crater."


In other words, Peruvians don't know a morass from a hole in the ground.
posted by Atom Eyes at 9:19 AM on September 19, 2007 [3 favorites]


Well, I wasn't aiming at Peru, so I have no clue how this happened. Yes, I'll be the first to admit that I'd had a few drinks, but I'd locked in the coordinates before I ever touched the stuff, I swear.

And don't go blaming me for people getting sick either, the stuff in that canister is only supposed to resurrect the dead, the label never said anything about affecting living tissue.

Now I'm not blameless, I'll accept that. But let's not start leveling charges like "monster" or "psychotic". We went through that last time, and I think we can agree that calling me names only exacerbates my behavior.
posted by quin at 9:53 AM on September 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


To expand on DU's comment, the "why wasn't it tracked on radar?" responses are mixing up three different categories of objects.

Things in Earth orbit (that is, things which are circling the Earth in some sort of stable trajectory) are tracked quite closely, even if they're pretty small. They're tracked even if they're far too small to make it through reëntry without completely burning up. If this were a decayed satellite we'd know it.

Meteors (that is, things which are actually in the process of falling through the atmosphere) are easy enough to detect, because they leave those hot glowing trails of ionized, radio-reflective gas. I don't know if anyone catalogs these events. There are lots of them. Remember that most objects don't reach the ground.

What's not tracked very well are large objects in earth-crossing orbits— either solar orbits which happen to cross Earth's, or (rarer) objects making a one-time pass through the system on a hyperbolic orbit. There are efforts to track these, e.g. Gene Shoemaker (of SL-9 fame)'s work. But this is much harder, since the objects are far away, in a vastly huger volume of space, and aren't moving in as predictable a pattern. And it doesn't get the huge military support that tracking of near-earth objects (ballistic missiles, spy sats) does. From time to time these programs will detect a potential impactor but they don't come anywhere close to giving us reliable warning of a major impact.
posted by hattifattener at 9:54 AM on September 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


This fine PDF file describes how information on some meteorites was collected also thanks to seismic recordings. I luv the net !
posted by elpapacito at 9:58 AM on September 19, 2007


(Ah, I should have linked to 2004 FU162 from that last paragraph. It passed quite close to Earth but wasn't noticed until it was here.)
posted by hattifattener at 10:00 AM on September 19, 2007


We could be Heroes....just for one day...until the radiation
eats at us. So who wants to zing over there and get some superpowers. I mean, you know they're going to get some.
I'm just saying....
posted by doctorschlock at 10:24 AM on September 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


I always thought I had the right makings to be the third anti-christ, but then my 30s and 40s slipped buy, and I figured, hell, it must not be me.

But now, I wonder, could it be my banjo strummin' idol Joel?
posted by beelzbubba at 11:06 AM on September 19, 2007


buy = by
posted by beelzbubba at 11:07 AM on September 19, 2007


maBUSH

M = upside-down W (like in the Da Vinci Code) perhaps?


Which brings to mind "mah titties," which leads us inevitably to...wait a minute, Mulder, I think you might have something here...
posted by kittens for breakfast at 11:34 AM on September 19, 2007


Actually no, it hasn't been confirmed. Real meteor experts are apparently are on the way though to check it out.
posted by yupislyr at 12:05 PM on September 19, 2007


It's The Colour Out of Space....! Aieee!!!




Anyway...

Dr Caroline Smith, a meteorite expert at the London-based Natural History Museum.

She was on the BBC news at lunchtime... hilariously grumpy.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 12:31 PM on September 19, 2007


Next comic hero: Meter Marker. Back story - he was just an undergrad assistant to the meteorite expert professor at State U who took up-close photos of the incident in Peru, then began to experience superpowers.
posted by Cranberry at 1:18 PM on September 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


I don't know much. I don't know much about meteor craters. But a hole in the ground leaking noxious gas sounds like, well, like a hole in the ground leaking noxious gas. That, you don't need no meteor for.
posted by popcassady at 2:45 PM on September 19, 2007


...oh, okay. I just read the first article.
posted by popcassady at 2:47 PM on September 19, 2007


When the villagers develop a taste for flesh, can we assume it's not psychosomatic?
posted by sweetwildandmad at 2:52 PM on September 19, 2007


My all-time favorite Ripley's Believe it or Not entry: "No meteor has ever hit the earth".
posted by Tube at 4:29 PM on September 19, 2007


Creepshow!
posted by augustweed at 5:20 PM on September 19, 2007


fearfulsymmetry - Dr Smith must be tired of curatin' all them meteorites without gettin' nothin' in exchange.

The museum's meteorite blog is pretty interesting, though they haven't updated it in almost a year.
posted by lukemeister at 6:38 PM on September 19, 2007


Space spooge!
posted by Artw at 10:11 PM on September 19, 2007


From the Bad Astronomer -
It threw up contaminated groundwater, according to recent reports.
posted by edd at 8:49 AM on September 24, 2007


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