A man was killed this week, Indian authorities say, when he was struck by a meteorite. The incident occurred in south India, in Tamil Nadu state, and if scientifically corroborated, would be the first time in recorded history that an individual was killed by a falling meteorite.
Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported February 8 that, although as yet unproven, it is believed that a meteorite impacted the Earth in India’s Tamil Nadu state, leaving a large crater, killing a man as he walked past, and injuring three others. The force of the impact also shattered windows in nearby buildings.
“A meteorite fell at a private engineering college… and claimed the life of a college bus driver,” said Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa Jayaram in a statement released late Sunday. He expressed “shock” at the news. Local media have generated images of a bluish rock-like object said to be the meteorite itself. The Guardian reported that the object was a “dark stone resembling a diamond.”
According to authorities, the bus driver was standing outside near the college cafeteria when he was killed. Two gardeners and a student were injured when the object impacted the ground. Officials at first thought the blast had been caused by explosives but have since found no evidence pointing toward foul play.
Scientists, however, have not tested the object and are reluctant to call it a “meteorite.” S. P. Rajaguru, assistant professor at the Indian Astrophysics Institute in Bangalore, says that it is possible the object is a meteorite. “Most of the meteors never reach the earth surface as they completely vaporize in the atmosphere,” he told AFP by phone. “Hitting the Earth surface is very rare and there have been no deaths in recorded history.”
But until further tests are complete, Rajagur is keeping an open mind. He notes that the object could be debris from a rocket or a space shuttle.
Still, if the tragic death is proven to have been caused by a meteorite, it would not be the first in recorded history, as the chief minister thought. Though a first for India, The Guardian points out that, according to a list kept by the International Comet Quarterly scientific journal, the last time an individual was killed by meteorite was in 1825.
The rarity of deaths by meteorite is a result of most meteors being small enough to burn up or disintegrate upon entry into the Earth’s atmosphere. And then there are the great expanses of water and open terrain covering the Earth’s surface. “When you look at the fraction of the Earth’s surface that is heavily populated, it’s not very much,” Simon Goodwin, reader in theoretical astrophysics at the University of Sheffield, explained to The Guardian.