Patrick Barkham on 'toxic' fumes from meteorites craters

Patrick Barkham: More than 150 residents of Carancas in Peru have suffered headaches, irritated skin and vomiting brought on by a 'strange odour', rising from a crater.

A sleepy fishing community in rural Australia is struck by a shower of meteorites. Those hit succumb to a terrible infection: they are turned into zombies and feast on human flesh.

The townsfolk of Carancas in Peru would be advised not to watch the horror film Undead, after witnessing a fiery ball in the sky at the weekend. More than 150 residents have suffered headaches, irritated skin and vomiting brought on by a "strange odour", according to a local health official.

Tales of "toxic" fumes rising from a crater sound scary but as Nester Quispe, the local mayor, said: "There's a certain psychological fear in the community." Experts believe the irritation could be caused by gas or dust and there is still uncertainty over whether it was a meteorite - the "crater" could be just a toxic lake.

What about zombie disease? And is it a Sign? For centuries, meteorites have been seen as gifts from angels or portents of doom. In the Bible, Joshua wrote of how "the Lord cast down great stones from heaven" while Revelation recorded a falling star that poisoned the waters: "Many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter."

Reports of sickness are rare, although many of the estimated 1,050 sightings of falling meteorites to date have sparked superstition. The Peru event has triggered internet speculation that it could be a fallen satellite (as in the Michael Crichton thriller The Andromeda Strain) or, of course, aliens. In 1492 a meteorite is said to have caused a war: Maximilian, Emperor of Austria, was convinced that a meteor fall in Ensisheim, Rhineland, was a favourable omen to confront the French.

More mysterious than the Peruvian "meteorite" is the 1908 Tunguska event, a blast over Siberia 1,000 times more powerful than an atomic bomb, probably caused by a meteoroid exploding above Earth. Millions of trees were felled, locals took to the streets in panic and there were reports of a "plague", now thought to be unconnected to the blast.

In Peru, the crater and its sickness will soon be verified by scientists. Just don't expect a denouement like the one in Undead.


Patrick Barkham

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
World weatherwatch: Peru’s saint of storms brings salvation to cities and ski slopes
Seasonal storms that blow up on the Peruvian coast at this time of year are named after St Rosa

David Hambling

21, Aug, 2021 @5:00 AM

Article image
From below sea level to 22,000 feet: Peru's varied climate
Country has a large north-south range – from within 3km of the equator in the north to 18 degrees in the south

Stephen Moss

16, Mar, 2021 @6:00 AM

Article image
Why are there no real-life triffids?
The long-running series in which readers answer other readers’ questions on subjects ranging from trivial flights of fancy to profound scientific concepts

14, Sep, 2016 @10:30 AM

Article image
GM crops: protesters go back to the battlefields

A decade ago anti-GM protesters tore up fields and Britain roundly rejected so-called 'Frankenfood'. Now, as researchers trial new crops, activists are once more squaring up to the scientists. But have the arguments changed?

Leo Hickman

22, May, 2012 @1:46 PM

Article image
James Cameron dives deep for Avatar

Only once before has anyone made the seven-mile descent into the Pacific's Mariana trench, the deepest point on earth. Now film-maker James Cameron wants to repeat that incredible journey for his Avatar sequel

Ian Sample

18, Jan, 2011 @7:59 AM

Article image
Will we ever be able to predict the weather precisely?

Readers answer other readers' questions on subjects ranging from trivial flights of fancy to profound scientific concepts

13, Aug, 2014 @2:00 PM

Article image
Fool’s gold: what fish oil is doing to our health and the planet
Omega-3 is one of our favourite supplements – but a huge new study has found it has little or no benefit. How did it become a $30bn business?

Paul Greenberg

25, Jul, 2018 @5:00 AM

Article image
When farmers go vegan: the science behind changing your mind
A farmer recently took his lambs to a sanctuary instead of the slaughter – and these sudden turnarounds are not uncommon

Paula Cocozza

30, Jan, 2019 @3:48 PM

Article image
Is clean beauty a skincare revolution – or a pointless indulgence?
More and more companies are offering skincare products free from ‘toxic’, ‘nasty’ and ‘suspicious’ chemicals. But are these ingredients really dangerous?

Nicola Davis

04, Feb, 2019 @3:05 PM

David Adam on pharmaceutical farming

A new breed of genetically modified crops could provide cheap drugs and vaccines for the developing world. Only one problem: what if they get into the food chain? Environment correspondent David Adam reports on 'pharming', the new GM front line.

David Adam

30, Apr, 2007 @9:08 AM