An Indian man may be the first person in recorded history to have been killed by a meteorite. Identified only as Kamaraj, the man – a bus driver – was killed on Saturday at the Bharathidasan Engineering College near the town of Natrampalli in the Vellore district in southern India.
The cause of death was an explosion, which also injured three others and smashed nearby windows. Initially it was thought to be a blast from a bomb, but forensic and bomb experts found no explosive substances at the scene.
“We can rule out the possibility of any terror angle or sabotage,” a police official told The Hindu. “Not a single ingredient pertaining to any kind of explosive was found at the site. We suspect it to be a meteorite fall.”
A stone found at the impact site, which left a small crater 1.2 meters (4 feet) deep in the ground, is currently being analyzed by scientists. The blast occurred early on Saturday, with Kamaraj being declared dead when taken to a hospital. It’s not clear if he was killed by the initial impact, or the resultant blast.
Crater formed due to meteor impact at Nattrampalli, vellore. looks like a powerful impact. pic.twitter.com/POlim224pn
— Prashanth (@itisprashanth) February 7, 2016
There has never been a recorded human fatality from a meteorite before. The only previous suspected fatality was a dog in Egypt in 1911, which was supposedly vaporized by a Martian meteorite called Nakhla. As no remains of the dog were found, though, that report remains anecdotal.
Humans have also been injured by meteorites before, but not killed. Perhaps one of the most notorious cases was Ann Elizabeth Hodges in 1954. The woman, 34 at the time, was struck while napping on her couch when a meteorite crashed through her roof of her home in Sylacauga, Alabama, badly bruising one side of her body. More recently, in February 2013, the Chelyabinsk meteor injured hundreds in Russia when it exploded above the ground.
Some scientists remain skeptical about this reported death from a meteorite, however. Associate professor Dipankar Banerjee of the Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIA) said he thought it may have been satellite junk, and not a space rock, that caused the event. “I will be very surprised if such a thing happened because of a meteor shower,” he said, reported The New Indian Express. “Normally meteor showers are traceable and there are predictions for this. But there was no prediction of this.”
Of course, that in itself would be rather big news. But it’s not unheard of that a meteor passes through the atmosphere without being tracked. After all, the Chelyabinsk meteorite came as a surprise. And over the weekend, it was also reported that an unidentified meteorite hit Denmark.