Right now there are over 13,000 man-made objects floating in orbit around Earth. That number would be even higher if scientists at NASA counted all the objects less than 1 centimeter in size. Yet, despite all of those objects, it was not a piece of space junk that killed a bus driver in Southern India over the weekend. Instead, a meteorite tragically ended the man’s life while at the same time ushering him into the record books.
Mr. V. Kamaraj, age 40, is the man at the center of this tragic tale. For the last four years he has driven a campus bus at Bharathidasan Engineering College in the Indian city of Vellore, located in the state of Tamil Nadu. When the meteorite struck Earth, Kamaraj was not on his bus, but taking a walk around the college grounds near the cafeteria. The space rock crashing into the ground created an explosion that destroyed windows in some buildings and vehicles around campus. Although Kamaraj was the only fatality, three other individuals near the cafeteria were also injured.
As investigators made their way to the scene, they noted a small, dark blue stone, approximately the size of a diamond, in the center of an impact crater that was five feet wide and two feet deep. Authorities brought in metal detectors and dug up the soil in the hole to begin determining whether or not there was another cause for the explosion. While scientists at NASA and the Indian Institute of Astrophysics remain skeptical that a meteorite caused the death, the chief minister of Tamil Nadu, Ms. J. Jayalalithaa, chalked the incident up to a stone from outer space.
According to experts, around 10 meteorites strike Earth each year. These strikes are rare because most meteoroids burn up when passing through the planet’s atmosphere. Even when one makes it through, more often than not it will splash harmlessly into the oceans. Casualties resulting from meteorites are so rare that the International Comet Quarterly, a journal that keeps records of meteorite activity, states the last time a meteorite might have killed someone was all the way back in 1825. And, perhaps lending credibility to the 2016 occurrence, the nineteenth-century impact also occurred in India.