Thursday, September 13, 2007
The cause of illness from meteorite impact was discovered to be decidedly not out-of-this-world.
A significant cosmic event occurred when a massive meteor struck on September 15th outside the farming village of Carancas, near Lake Titicaca. The meteor created an imposing eight meter (26-foot) deep, 20 meter (65 foot) wide crater. Almost immediately the object was ruled to be a meteor and not something of terrestial origin.
The massive crater emitted strange fumes, which made over 30 villagers violently ill, with headaches and nausea. Reports on the exact number of victims ranged from 30 to about 200. Speculations on possible "out-of-this-world" causes were rampant.
Police blocked off the crater, and the villagers were transported to hospitals.
The director of the health ministry in the Puno region, Jorge Lopez, said none of the patients was in serious condition but that they would have to undergo blood and neurological tests as a precaution in three to six months.
Now, a team of Peruvian researchers have determined the true cause -- ground water tainted with arsenic.
The villagers' reactions were the result of inhaling arsenic fumes, according to, a researcher for Peru's Mining, Metallurgy, and Geology Institute, who visited the crash site.
Peru's soil is rich in arsenic deposits and when the meteor hit, columns of steam were created by the heat from the meteor. This steam bore particles of arsenic, causing the various afflictions.
Villagers described the event as a terrifying experience as they observed the massive flaming ball of rock hurtled at high speed from the skies and the impact scattered debris over a wide radius. Debris landed on the roof of the closest house, 390 feet from the crater, but no fires were reported to be caused by the debris.
The medical mystery of the meteor and its solution goes to show that there are practical explanations for many "out-of-this-world" phenomena. The event also was a significant cosmological event, as it marks one of the largest meteor impacts in recent years. For now, the people of Carancas, probably just want to never see another meteorite again.