One of the first scientists to visit the site of a sensational meteor strike in Peru was Lionel Jackson, of the Geological Survey of Canada, who was working nearby when a fireball scorched across the sky over Lake Titicaca a little over a week ago.
Back in his Vancouver office yesterday, Dr. Jackson discounted wild theories that clouds of alien viruses were released in the collision or that the foreign body that blasted into the earth, near Carancas, in Peru’s Puno province, Sept. 16, was really a spy satellite.
Dr. Jackson says there’s little doubt the crater left in the muddy ground in a farming district was created by a meteor that came from space “travelling at a number of times the speed of sound.”
He was finishing up some field work in Bolivia, just across the border from Carancas, when news reports of the strike reached him last week.
He went to the site the next day, along with several members of the Bolivian geological survey, with whom he was working on a Canadian International Development Agency-funded project related to the threat of natural hazards in the Andes.
They found the meteor had left a crater in the ground, about 12 metres in diameter, that was largely filled with water.
“The crater was a lot smaller than it looks in the [news] photographs … but as a geologist, I was really excited to see it. It was just an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the site of a meteor strike … we were the first scientists in there.”
Astrophysicist José Ishitsuka of Peru’s Geophysics Institute, travelling separately, also visited the site and recovered a small magnetic rock fragment.
Dr. Jackson said it is likely a substantial piece of meteorite is still in the crater, covered with water and mud.
“It went into very wet soil. There may be a lot of it still in there,” he said.
The meteor strike occurred in a remote area where people survive by growing potatoes and herding llamas.
The incident caused considerable alarm, with about 200 local people reporting strange sicknesses and a foul odour emitting from the crater.
Dr. Jackson said those who suddenly fell ill were likely suffering psychosomatic shock and had not been infected by some kind of space virus released in a cloud of gas.
“People were stressed,” he said. “I suspect if a meteor went down in the suburbs of Toronto, flaming across the sky and making all kinds of sounds, a lot of people would get headaches and report strange illnesses, too.”
Dr. Jackson saw no evidence of any sickness when he was there and he and the colleagues he visited the site with feel fine.
“There have been a lot of sensational reports connected to this event, with everything from the Andromeda Strain escaping in gas clouds to stories that a spy satellite crashed,” he said. “But everything I saw is consistent with a meteor strike.”
The Andromeda Strain is a 1971 science fiction film, based on a Michael Crichton thriller, about scientists investigating a deadly alien virus.
Dr. Jackson said the site is remote and it would be difficult to get a backhoe and water pumps to the location to conduct a thorough excavation.
“We’ll have to see if the Peruvian government follows up on that,” he said. “A lot of the local people are thinking they could just leave it the way it is and turn it into a tourist attraction.” Globe & Mail