‘Death by meteorite’ causes a stir in India

Image: Asteroid entering atmosphere
An artist’s conception shows an asteroid entering Earth’s atmosphere. (Credit: NASA)

Death by meteorite is a common theme in science-fiction movies, but in real life, the chances of being done in by a falling space rock are virtually nil. That’s what makes the reports about the death of Indian bus driver V. Kamaraj in an apparent meteorite strike so remarkable.

Some would argue that the case is unprecedented in modern history – but as usual, that depends on how precisely you define the precedents.

First, the reports: NDTV quotes officials as saying that a blast at Bharathidasan Engineering College, in Natrampalli in India’s Tamil Nadu state, killed Kamaraj and injured three others on Saturday at Bharathidasan Engineering College. A 2-foot-deep crater was left in the ground, and the shock wave shattered windshields and window panes around the site.

At first, the explosion was blamed a “drone-like” flying object or a bomb. But on Sunday, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa was quoted as saying that a meteorite caused the blast. About $1,475 (100,000 rupees) in relief was paid out to Kamaraj’s family, and $370 was paid to each of the injured, NDTV quoted the minister as saying.

Authorities said they recovered what appears to be a piece of the meteorite, but found no trace of explosives. Scientists still have to verify that the debris actually came from space.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributor to GeekWire and Universe Today, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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