As a collector of strange deaths I got pretty excited in early February when news filtered through that a man had been Killed in the Tamil Nadu district of Vellore in India in mysterious circumstances. Standing by a college café the poor man, a bus driver, was killed by an explosion and three bystanders were injured. A black pockmarked stone was recovered from the five feet deep, two feet wide crater and the story soon spread that it was a Meteorite what done it. Had that been the case it would have been the first death by meteorite to be scientifically proven.
Unfortunately, the scientists have poured cold water over the initial theory of causation. There were no meteorite showers anticipated in the area at the time and no meteorites actually observed. NASA went further by saying that the crater looked like that formed by a land-based explosion and, anyway, the fragment of supposed meteorite was nothing more than a fragment of common earth rock. So the story fizzled out.
But it left me thinking, how likely is it to be killed by something falling out of space? After all, there are enough rocks and man-made hardware whizzing around. Fortunately, the ever popular International Comet Quarterly – it is disappointing that its appearance is regular rather than requiring the computational genius of an Edmond Halley to spot; a marketing trick missed, I feel – keeps a scorecard of all the locations and sizes of meteorites which are reported to have landed on earth since the start of the 19th century.
The list is fascinating and some of the highlights are worth passing on. The first occurrence listed was on 14th December 1807 in Weston, Connecticut, when a meteor was visible for around half a minute, loud sounds were heard and many stones weighing in total 200 lbs and the largest 35 lbs were found scattered in a 6 to 10 mile radius. On 16th January 1825 in Oriang in India a man was reported to have been killed by a meteorite which also is said to have injured a woman. A horse was struck and killed by a meteorite on 1st May 1860 in New Concord, Ohio.
Houses seem to have come off particularly badly. In Hauptmannsdorf in Bohemia in 1847 a 37 lb Braunau iron meteorite smashed into a room, covering three children with ceiling debris, leaving them shaken but unharmed. In Latvia in 1863 a 5.4 kg meteorite penetrated through the roof and embedded itself in the floor as did a 1kg meteorite in Constantia in South Africa in 1906. In 1954 Mrs Hewlett Hodges was slightly injured when a meteorite crashed through the roof of her house in Sylacauga, Alabama.
Perhaps the most serious occurrence in modern times happened in 1908 in Tunguska in Siberia. The airblast from an object entering the earth’s atmosphere is said to have flattened hundreds of square miles of forest, killing two men and hundreds of reindeer. No evidence of a meteorite having landed was ever found. And in February 2013 in Chelyabinsk meteorites splintered off from a meteor that had hit the earth’s atmosphere injuring some 1,200 people including 200 children. The majority of the injuries sustained were from flying glass.
According to a recently published study by the American National Safety Council the odds of being killed by an asteroid are 74,817,414 to 1. If you find that reassuring, just talk to a dinosaur!
Filed under: Culture, History, Science Tagged: Chelyabinsk, Edmond Halley, Indian man probably not killed by meteorite in Vellore, International Comet Quarterly, man killed by meteorite in 1825, National Safety Council, odds of dying from an asteroid strike, Tunguska airblast of 1908, Vellore meteorite
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