Scientists Investigate Possible First Death by Meteorite in Almost 200 Years

February 8, 2016 | Elizabeth Knowles

Trail of vapour left by meteor flying over the Urals on February 2, 2013
Photo credit: Alex Alishevskikh/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

They are still trying to determine whether it was actually a meteorite

On Saturday February 6, an object fell from the sky, caused a large explosion, killed a bus driver and injured two bystanders in Tamil Nadu, India. Scientists are in the process of analysing the object to determine whether it could have been a meteorite. If that’s the case, it would be the first meteorite-caused fatality in almost 200 years.

Whatever the object was, it left an impact crater about 2 feet (60 centimeters) deep and shattered the windows of some of the busses on the Indian engineering school campus. A blue diamond-shape stone was found near the scene.

P. K. Senthil Kumari, the police chief in Vellore district in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, told CNN: "We wait until the investigation is over to confirm if the object was a meteorite." A piece of debris was collected and will be analyzed by the Indian Institute of Astrophysics.

SEE ALSO: ‘Older Than Earth’ Meteorite Found in the Australian Outback

A statement was released by the government calling the incident a meteorite strike and compensating the deceased bus driver’s family 100,000 rupees ($1471).

G. Baskar, the principal of the college described the odd nature of the explosion: "It was a sound like nothing I've ever heard before," he told Reuters. "There was no smell at all, no fire, nothing."

Simon Goodwin, an astrophysics expert from Britain's University of Sheffield, explained to Reuters that meteorite deaths are so rare because they don’t typically make it through the Earth’s atmosphere without burning up. And, even when they do, they usually land in the ocean or remote areas. According to a list kept by International Comet Quarterly, the last fatal meteorite strike was in 1825, and it also occurred in India.

The last major meteorite event occurred in 2013 when a large meteor caused many injuries by exploding over the Russian region of Chelyabinsk. However, no deaths were reported at the time.

What precisely are meteorites? They are meteoroids — small pieces of dust, rock, ice or metal moving through space — that make it through Earth’s atmosphere without completely burning up and travel to the surface of the planet. They are typically made of rock, but can also consist of iron or nickel. Their name changes based on location: a meteoroid while in space, a meteor while passing through the atmosphere, and a meteorite when they reach Earth’s surface.

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