Mars invades Peru

Well, the Peruvians claim something from above hit them…
Maleficent Mystery Meteorite Miasma.

Makes more sense then invading the Home Counties, or New Jersey for that matter; they’ll want to adapt gradually to local conditions, start at altitude…

The claim is that there was a fireball and explosion near Lake Titcaca, and when the locals went to investigate (thinking maybe it was a plane crash), they found a 10-20m crater that was a few meters deep. Noxious smell reported.
Then ~ 500 people living nearby became sick.

Hm. The crater doesn’t look terribly meteoritic (see story for press photo of crater).
A normal meteorite would also not be expected to release much of anything that makes people sick.
There are claims of metalic debris around the crater.

Normally I’d suspect an icy fragment, maybe releasing some volatiles like ammonia.
From the crater size you’d then expect a fragment maybe ~ 2-3 meters in diameter to have made the crater, but it is hard for such a small fragment to survive atmospheric entry.
One possibility is that it was a processed outer system body – with a rock or metal shell with some internal volatile, but there’d be at most a few tons of ice at the surface, which are not going to go very far in making nearby villagers sick, unless the topography traps the fumes and there is little wind.
Or it could have been man made – re-entering rocket body with residual volatiles or a satellite with something in the tanks.
If there is really debris around the crater and the local scientists know what they are doing we will soon know.

UPDATE: One of the comments mentions the EAS – here is the story on the Early Ammonia Servicer tank being jettisoned from the ISS in July ’07 Had ~150kg of ammonia in it when dumped. ~ 600 kg metal tank, might have survived re-entry.
But if they really found magnetic iron rocks (melted?) around the crater, then it wasn’t man made, but a real meteorite.
Orbital decay time was predicted to be ~ 300 days, so predicted re-entry in ~ May ’08, unlikely they got it wrong by factor of 3 – no unusual solar activity in the last couple of months to move the upper atmosphere.

EAS jettisoned

Lake Titcaca, Peru


  1. #1 Tegumai Bopsulai, FCD
    September 19, 2007

    My personal theory is a hydrovolcanic eruption. You can see examples at at half day’s drive in Death Valley National Park.

  2. #2 Tegumai Bopsulai, FCD
    September 19, 2007

    There are claims of metalic debris around the crater.

    Yeah, well I’ve got complaints about the metallic debris in my neighbor’s driveway.

  3. #3 Steinn Sigurdsson
    September 19, 2007

    Big question is how reliable the “fireball” claim is.
    Should be on radar and/or satellite, with any luck, depending on exact trajectory.

  4. #4 Tegumai Bopsulai, FCD
    September 19, 2007
  5. #5 Jonathan Vos Post
    September 19, 2007

    If it was a human-built spacecraft, I’d like to point out that the standard attitude control propellant Hydrazine is quite poisonous…

    If this was “The Colour Out of Space” or the derived Stephen King story, or Men In Black, be prepared for some really weird stories from South America.

  6. #6 Steinn Sigurdsson
    September 19, 2007

    yup, hydrazine would do it
    easy to find out if that was it and there’s anyone with analytic skills on site

    then they figure out who to sue!

  7. #7 bigTom
    September 20, 2007

    I would think it was more likely some sort of terrestrial venting of something. Perhaps some sortof gas built up under pressure, and the falling from the sky bit is overactive imagination. Supposedly a few scientists were sent to investigate, then maybe we will find out.

  8. #8 Alex
    September 20, 2007

    Wouldn’t a decaying Molniya orbit take it over that part of the world?

  9. #9 rodeoron
    September 20, 2007

    On 23 July, a large tank weighing 640 kg called the Early Ammonia Servicer (EAS) was jettisoned from the international space station. It was unused and therefore contained the full original payload of what I imagine may have been several hundred kilograms of ammonia. Tanks of this nature are known to have survived re-entry. The symptoms of the villagers are certainly consistent with ammonia poisoning.

  10. #10 Jorge Gajardo Rojas
    September 20, 2007

    Perhaps is a martian oil company searching new areas to make profits when the oil price is rising.

  11. #11 bigTom
    September 20, 2007

    It is now claimed that it was a “rocky” meteor. No physical evidence of the reputed heath effects was found.

  12. #12 Steinn Sigurdsson
    September 21, 2007

    Well, Peru, being right on the equator, can be hit by almost any Earth orbiting satellite.
    The EAS tank is an intriguing possibility.

    The crater still “looks wrong” in the pictures, it would help if news reports included useful things like: whether it rained; what time was the fireball, how bright was it, and which direction was it traveling/coming from.

    Anyway, the Peruvian geo people are confirming it as a meteorite, saying it was a stony meteorite that presumably broke up – claim to have recovered iron rich fragments around the crater. Interesting. One news story claimed the crater was “elliptical” – that is a major red flag, if true. Can’t tell from the pictures because of foreshortening.
    Be really nice to know what direction it came from and if radar caught the trail at high altitude.

  13. #14 Sam Wise
    September 21, 2007


    Actually the BA went off on a wild goose chase with this one. You could tell this wasn’t a Scud impact just from the pictures. Scuds come down to Earth in one piece (don’t separate their warheads), so a Scud impact leaves lots of metal pieces laying around.


  14. #15 Steinn Sigurdsson
    September 21, 2007

    I agree, the Scud hypothesis is implausible
    I also don’t see why the Peruvians would be shooting Scuds anywhere near the direction of the Bolivian border even if they had them to test out. They have the whole Pacific to aim at.

  15. #16 Hank Roberts
    September 24, 2007

    Any science blogger anywhere still watching this? Last I found online was Google News, with reports of magnetite and a suggestion something hit very hot and penetrated to arsenic-containing wet soil and boiled some of that out.

  16. #17 Tegumai Bopsulai, FCD
    September 24, 2007

    Found this through Slashdot:

    Meteor Crash in Peru Caused Mysterious Illness

    Jos� Orozco in Caracas, Venezuela
    for National Geographic News
    September 21, 2007

    An object that struck the high plains of Peru on Saturday, causing a mysterious illness among local residents, was a rare kind of meteorite, scientists announced today.

    But the illness was the result of inhaling arsenic fumes, according to Luisa Macedo, a researcher for Peru’s Mining, Metallurgy, and Geology Institute (INGEMMET), who visited the crash site.
    The meteorite created the gases when the object’s hot surface met an underground water supply tainted with arsenic, the scientists said.

    Preliminary analysis by Macedo’s institute revealed no metal fragments, indicating a rare rock meteorite.

    The samples also had a significant amount of magnetic material “characteristic of meteorites,” she said.
    “The samples stick to the magnet,” Ishitsuka, the astronomer, confirmed. “That shows that there is iron present.”

    It’s a bit confusing; no metal fragments, but contains iron.

  17. #18 Steinn Sigurdsson
    September 26, 2007

    Well, if there were metal fragments then generally one would suspect a spacecraft, satellite or missile/booster segment.
    Unless they were iron/nickel and obviously unmachined.
    “iron” probably means magnetite/ferrous oxide with a bit of nickel/iron – and they know it because of colour and response to strong permanent magnet.

    I’m skeptical of the vapourised arsenic theory. Based on crater size we’re looking at something like 2 meter meteorite. At 20 km/sec, mumbled, so that is about 10^13 Joules.
    So order of magnitude we’re looking at about a thousand tonnes of water vapourized, if the energy transfer was efficient. That is about 10^8 m^3 of saturated water vapour if I didn’t drop any exponents. That is not going to stretch very far, like to any village more distant than a kilometer or two .

    It’d be nice to get a solid report on the anecdotally reported fireball – brightness and direction.

  18. #19 sex shop
    December 22, 2007

    I would think it was more likely some sort of terrestrial venting of something. Perhaps some sortof gas built up under pressure, and the falling from the sky bit is overactive imagination. Supposedly a few scientists were sent to investigate, then maybe we will find out.

  19. #20 greg
    December 31, 2007

    It is now claimed that it was a “rocky” meteor. No physical evidence of the reputed heath effects was found

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