THIS may be the first official confirmation of an object from space killing a living thing on earth this side of the 20th century.
On Sunday, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa issued a statement saying the death of a man on the premises of a private engineering college in Vellore district the day before had been caused by a meteorite.
“A mishap occurred yesterday when a meteorite fell in the campus of a private engineering college in Vellore district’s K Pantharappalli village…,” she said in a release here, adding that she had ordered the district administration and hospital officials to offer the best treatment to the three injured.
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Window panes of Bharatidasan Engineering College buses and several glass planes of its building had been damaged when the object said to be a meteorite by the state government fell, causing a loud explosion and leaving a small crater near the college complex. The deceased, a driver with the college named Kamaraj, was at the time walking past the building. The injured were employed as gardeners. None of the students, who were at the time in their classes, was injured.
Eyewitnesses claimed to have seen a flying object falling down and striking the campus at around Saturday noon.
Police initially probed a terror angle, but as a senior officer told The Indian Express, they couldn’t find any trace of an explosive or grenade causing the blast. Finally, the officer said, they concluded it was the result of a meteorite fall with the help of a senior scientist who was camping in Vellore due to a similar incident two weeks ago.
“Following a similar incident near Vellore on January 26, on a paddy field in Alangayam village, a scientist from National Physical Laboratory had been camping near Vellore. When our bomb and explosives experts ruled out the presence of usual chemicals and explosive contents, it was the scientist who visited the campus and confirmed it was an incident caused by a meteorite,” the officer said.
While there have been claims earlier of meteorites proving fatal, including in the 20th century, there is no official confirmation of the same except for a cow that came under one in Venezuela in 1972, was struck dead, and quickly eaten. In 2007, the killer meteorite, which came to be used as a doorstop, was put up for auction. At the time, The Telegraph daily of the UK said the Valera meteorite fragment “holds the dubious distinction of being the only extra-terrestrial rock to have caused a death”.
The only confirmed human meteorite victim in history so far has been Ann Hodges, who was hit in her Alabama home in 1954 and survived.
The most famous and researched incident involving meteorites in recent past was in Chelyabinsk in 2013. While the powerful shock wave from the meteor damaged buildings, shattered glass and left hundreds injured, there were no deaths.
The odds of being killed by an asteroid impact, as per experts? Between 1 in 700,000 and 1 in 250 million.
The family of Kamaraj, whose luck ran out Saturday, gets Rs 1 lakh from the Chief Minister’s Public Relief Fund.