A private autonomous college in Trichy has declared that a meteorite killed a bus driver in Vellore on February 6, keeping alive a bubbling debate after American agency Nasa overruled the death-by-space-rock theory.
Driver Kamraj of Bharathidasan Engineering College at Natrampalli, around 170km from Chennai, was killed and three more men were injured in an explosion after a burning object fell from the sky and created a three-foot wide crater. Police recovered a black, pockmarked stone from the site.
National College, a private engineering institute, said tests at its lab confirmed that samples collected from the spot were indeed fragments from a meteorite.
“The sample showed presence of carbonaceous chondrites,” college principal K Anbarasu told Hindustan Times over the phone on Friday afternoon. “We are 100% confident that it was a meteorite as the substance we recovered from the spot contained globular particles found only in meteorites and not in any other terrestrial material.”
Samples were collected from the terrace of the college building on February 9. “These contained minerals like nickel, chromium, sulphur and iron. We have sent these for a detailed chemical examination … in an instrument called ICP or Inductively Coopted Plasma,” the principal said.
If that is so, Kamraj could be the first human casualty of a meteorite.
But scientists at Nasa have discounted the theory, saying online photographs of the site were more consistent with “a land-based explosion” than with something from space. The agency said a death by meteorite impact was so rare that one has never been scientifically confirmed in recorded history.
The Indian Institute of Astrophysics in Bengaluru and the Geographical Survey of India (GSI), the final authority in the country on the subject, did not share the Trichy college principal’s confidence. They were yet to make any authoritative comment on the object.
“We have sent samples to laboratories … only after getting the results we would be in any position to make a confirmation,” a senior scientist from the Bengaluru-based institute said.
S Raju, the Chennai-based deputy director of GSI visited inspected the spot and “did not find any meteorite-like object” on the campus. “But nothing can be said unless we analyze the chemical properties.”
He said there has been no recorded literature yet of a man getting killed by a meteorite.