Researchers get their hands on first credible evidence of a meteorite death

Researchers get their hands on first credible evidence of a meteorite death

A team of researchers has found in the archives of the Republic of Turkey manuscripts from 1888 mentioning the death of a man after the fall of a meteorite. For the first time in history, this evidence is considered valid.

On February 6, 2016, a mysterious explosion in the Vellore district of India killed one person and injured three others. Because no trace of explosives or any act of terror is found on the spot by the scientific police, the thesis of meteorite fall is advanced. Nasa, from its American offices, doubts this explanation very much. At the time, Lindley Johnson, head of the U.S. administration’s Department of Global Defense, was also reminded that the risk of dying from a meteorite impact was so low that no cases have been confirmed in history. But Lindley Johnson, of course, doesn’t know that four years later, researchers will come to prove her wrong. Published April 22, 2020, in the journal Meteoritics – Planetary Science, the work of a group of physicists and historians has just highlighted a first credible case of a fatal collision between a human being and a meteorite.

One man dead, one paralyzed

The tragic event occurred on August 22, 1888, in Sulaymaniyah, in present-day northeastern Iraq. According to several handwritten documents exhumed from the Directorate General of State Archives of the Presidency of the Republic of Turkey, a meteorite likely struck two men, killing the first and paralyzing the second. The object would probably have exploded in the upper atmosphere before hitting a hill near which the unlucky ones were. The accident was even reported to Abdul Hamid II, the 34th Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, by the governor of Sulaymaniyah

For the researchers, the fact that such an incident could never have been proven before this one may not necessarily be due to its exceptional nature: “Our results suggest that there may be historical documents describing other events that have caused death and meteorite injuries.” Every day, between 100 and 1,000 tons of extraterrestrial matter comes into contact with Earth, according to the National Center for Space Studies (CNES). Most of this material comes to us in the form of dust, but sometimes larger pieces enter our atmosphere, giving rise to shooting stars or spectacular explosions.

An American woman injured in her home in 1954

Most of the time, these events occur happily in desert areas or over the ocean. But they sometimes occur in urbanized areas, as was the case in the Urals in February 2013. This is enough to cause considerable property damage. Putting aside Vellore’s controversial episode, it is therefore accepted that the consequences of falling a meteorite are limited to scrapping.

However, the specialized literature reports a few rare cases of people injured. The International Comet Quarterly page, under the aegis of Harvard University, lists such events since 1807.