Washington: Scientists at the US space agency Nasa have discounted reports that an Indian bus driver in Tamil Nadu was killed by a meteorite, saying he was likely hit by a land-based explosion.
Online photographs of the site of the suspected meteorite hit in a college campus on Saturday were more consistent with “a land based explosion” than with something from space, the New York Times reported on Tuesday citing Nasa scientists.
Early reports included images of a crater, five feet deep and two feet wide. Witnesses described hearing an explosion, and police recovered a black, pockmarked stone from the site in Vellore district of Tamil Nadu.
Lindley Johnson, Nasa’s planetary defence officer, told the US daily in an email that a death by meteorite impact was so rare that one has never been scientifically confirmed in recorded history.
“There have been reports of injuries, but even those were extremely rare before the Chelyabinsk event three years ago,” she said, referring to a 2013 episode in Russia.
In addition, meteorites are often cool to the touch when they land, and the object recovered from the site in India weighed only a few grams and appeared to be a fragment of a common earth rock.
The US daily also cited a scientist at the Indian Institute of Astrophysics which is analysing samples of the rock provided by the police as doubting if it was a meteorite.
“Considering that there was no prediction of a meteorite shower and there was no meteorite shower observed, this certainly is a rare phenomena if it is a meteorite,” professor GC Anupama, the dean of the institute, told the daily over telephone.
Deaths and injuries by meteorites are tracked by the International Comet Quarterly, which notes the locations and sizes of meteorites.
Some smash through houses, kill animals and spatter buildings. But deaths have been hard to confirm, the Times said.
In 1908 in Tunguska, Siberia, an apparent “airblast” of an object entering the Earth’s atmosphere leveled hundreds of square miles of forest and killed two men and hundreds of reindeer. But no meteorites were recovered, the New York Times said citing the quarterly.
In one of the largest recent events, meteorites or pieces of space rock, fell in Chelyabinsk from a meteor that hit the Earth’s atmosphere in February 2013.
About 1,200 people – 200 of them children – were injured, mostly by glass that exploded into schools and workplaces, the Times said, citing Russia’s interior ministry.