The Meteorite Crater of Carancas in Andes of Peru

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The Location of The Meteorite Crater of Carancas in Peru, Puno Region
The Location of Carancas Crater on the Map
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The Map of Peru
The Map of Peru
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The Meteorite Crater of Carancas
The Meteorite Crater of Carancas
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The Meteorite Crater of Carancas
The Meteorite Crater of Carancas
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The Fragment of Meteorite
27,7 g

The Fragment of Meteorite 27,7 g with scale cube 1×1×1 cm
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Meteorite Crash Caused Crater
Near Carancas Village in Andes of Peru

At noon on Saturday, September 15, 2007, residents near Lake Titicaca in Peru reported hearing a tremendous roar in the sky overhead as a fireball flew across the sky above. Then the ground shook and small rocks rained down from the sky.

"Even before it fell, there was a strong sound, like an airplane," said Marina Llanqui Mamani, 53. "And when it hit, it felt like an earthquake. Everyone was terrified. Even my animals were running all around in fear. Then there was a loud noise and a lot of smoke."

Justina Limache, 74, told El Comercio that when she heard the thunderous roar from the sky, she abandoned her flock of alpacas and ran to her small home with her 8-year-old granddaughter. She said that after the meteorite struck, small rocks rained down on the roof of her house for several minutes and she feared the house was going to collapse.

Locals described the meteorite as a bright, fiery ball with a smoke trail. The sound and smell rattled residents to the point that they feared for their lives, astrophysicist José Ishitsuka said.

The meteorite's impact sent debris flying up to 820 feet (250 meters) away, with some material landing on the roof of the nearest home 390 feet (120 meters) from the crater, Ishitsuka reported.

The orange streak and loud bang were initially thought to be a plane crashing. When people went to see what had happened they found a crater about 65 feet (about 20 meters) wide and 16 feet (about 5 meters) deep, but no sign of wreckage.

The Meteorite Crater in Andes of Peru Near the Village of Carancas
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Locals who went out to investigate the probable meteor that had just blasted into the atmosphere above them discovered a crater that looked like a watery mud pit 65 feet wide and 16 feet deep. Those in the area then began to feel ill as they smelled a sulfurous odor in the air. The residents briefly complained of headaches and stomach aches.

Peasants living near the crater said they had smelled a sulfurous odor for at least an hour after the meteorite struck and that it had provoked upset stomachs and headaches.

"The day after it fell, we heard this might be worth some money, so we went to pick up everything that was out there," said Eugenio Vilalla, 30. "But there was this terrible smell, really strong, and it gave everyone a headache. "

Jorge Lopez, director of the health department in the state where the meteorite crashed, said on Tuesday that 200 people suffered headaches, nausea and respiratory problems caused by "toxic" fumes emanating from the crater, which is some 65 feet wide and 16 feet deep.

"Lots of people from the village of Carancas have fallen ill. They have headaches, eye problems, irritated skin, nausea and vomiting."

Local resident Heber Mamani said a bull and some other animals had become ill.

People who visited the scene have been complaining of headaches, vomiting and nausea after inhaling gases.

12 people were treated and 7 police required oxygen masks and rehydration. Locals conveyed fears over what appeared to be chunks of lead and silver around the site which could contaminate the soil.

"The odour is strong and it's affecting nearby communities. There are 500 families close by and they have had symptoms of nausea, vomiting, digestive problems and general sickness," said Mr López.

"We've examined about 100 people who got near to the meteorite crater who have vomiting and headaches because of gasses coming out of there." López told Reuters. "People are scared."

"We ourselves went near the crater and now we've got irritated throats and itching noses." Lopez said.

A local journalist, Martine Hanlon, told the BBC experts did not believe the meteor would make anybody sick, but they did think a chemical reaction caused by its contact with the ground could release toxins such as sulphur and arsenic.

Meteor expert Ursula Marvin said that if people were sickened, "it wouldn't be the meteorite itself, but the dust it raises."

A team of doctors who reached the isolated site said they found no evidence the meteorite had sickened people.

Doctors at the site said that they had found no sign of radioactive contamination among families living nearby. But they said they had taken samples of blood, urine and hair to analyze.

Nearby residents who visited the impact crater complained of headaches and nausea, spurring speculation that the explosion was a subterranean geyser eruption or a release of noxious gas from decayed matter underground.

But the illness was the result of inhaling arsenic fumes, according to Luisa Macedo, a researcher for Peru's Mining, Metallurgy, and Geology Institute (INGEMMET), who visited the crash site.

The meteorite created the gases when the object's hot surface met an underground water supply tainted with arsenic, the scientists said.

Numerous arsenic deposits have been found in the subsoils of southern Peru, explained Modesto Montoya, a nuclear physicist who collaborated with the team. The naturally formed deposits contaminate local drinking water.

"If the meteorite arrives incandescent and at a high temperature because of friction in the atmosphere, hitting water can create a column of steam," added José Ishitsuka, an astronomer at the Peruvian Geophysics Institute, who analyzed the object.

By Wednesday, according to Macedo, a lot of residents who felt ill reported feeling better.

Specialists from Peru's Geophysical Institute came to the area, 600 miles (965 kilometers) south of Lima, to verify if it actually was a meteorite.

Some experts have questioned whether it was a meteorite or some other object that landed in Carancas.

Authorities took soil and water samples near the crater for analysis.

After days of doubt, they confirmed that the object was indeed a meteorite -- not volcanic pumice, space junk or some other earthly or extraterrestrial phenomenon.

Six days after the initial event, scientists from Peru's Mining, Metallurgy and Geology Institute confirmed that a meteorite did crash in the area and that the impact stirred up arsenic fumes. Tests confirmed that groundwater in the area was contaminated with arsenic. The explosion sent up some of the arsenic in the form of gas, making people sick. (In some parts of Peru, the soil and groundwater contain natural arsenic deposits.)

An engineer from the Peruvian Nuclear Energy Institute told AFP news agency that no radiation had been detected from the crater. He ruled out any possibility that the fallen object might be a satellite.

"We're now convinced this was a meteor," said Ronald Woodman, director of the Peruvian Geophysical Institute, which sent a team to the isolated site, about 600 miles southeast of Lima, the capital. "This kind of phenomenon can be dangerous, if it falls on a town, or on a house or person. Fortunately, this wasn't the case."

The object created a crater 43 feet in diameter and produced a seismic shock equivalent to a 1.5-magnitude earthquake, Woodman said.

Authorities say the crater was about 16 feet deep.

Experts from Peru's nuclear energy institute estimated that the meteorite was no more than 3 feet in diameter when it smashed into Earth at an extremely high speed.

That piece may have been all that remained of a much larger object that burned up while streaking through Earth's atmosphere, experts said.

Experts from San Andres university in the Bolivian capital La Paz said initial analyses of sand samples from the crater showed that it could be a meteorite.

Luisa Macedo, a geologist with the Mining Geology and Metallurgy Institute in Lima, told Reuters the reaction between the elements in a meteorite and the Earth's surface can generate gases that later dissipate. Other experts suggest that the cause might be from dust raised when the meteorite landed, rather than gases.

Some scientists said water in the meteorite's muddy crater boiled for maybe 10 minutes from the heat and could have given off a vapor that sickened people, and scientists were taking water samples.

Jose Mechare, a scientist with Peru's Geological, Mining and Metallurgical Institute, said a geologist had confirmed that it was a "rocky meteorite," based on the fragments analyzed.

"We are not completely certain that there was no contamination," Mechare said.

Upon investigation, scientists in Peru determined that radiation was not present and that the meteorite was a chondrite.

Astrophysicist José Ishitsuka of Peru's Geophysics Institute, collected samples of the meteorite and confirmed that it contained a high degree of iron and magnetic properties, characteristics common in objects from outer space.

The newer analysis reported in National Geographic News is confirming the theory that a meteor really did strike in the location claimed by locals. A seismograph detected a magnitude 1.5 tremor in the area when the meteorite was reported to have impacted. Scientists who traveled to the site report rock fragments that are magnetic, a common characteristic of meteorites, which can contain iron. The dirt and debris around the crater are also of an unusual color and characteristic for the area.

Andina, Peru's official government news agency reported that Marco Limachi, a district authority in Puno, Peru stated that the large crater would be turned into a tourist attraction. Limachi told Peru's Andina News Agency that the region would take advantage of the attention the crater has attracted.

The Final Results of Deep Investigation

Coordinates of the location in the Puno Region in Peru where the meteorite struck:

16°39'52"S 69°02'38"W

At 11:45 local time (16:45 GMT) on September 15, 2007, a chondritic meteorite crashed near the village of Carancas in the Puno Region, Peru, near the Bolivian border and Lake Titicaca.

The impact created a crater larger than 4.5 m (15 ft) deep, 13 m (43 ft) wide, with visibly scorched earth around the impact site.

The crater size was given as 13.80 by 13.30 meters (45.28 by 43.64 feet), with its greatest dimensions in an east-west direction.

The object moved in a direction toward N030E.

The strong explosion at impact shattered the windows of the local health center 1 kilometer (0.62 miles) away. A smoke column was formed at the site that lasted several minutes, and boiling water was seen in the crater.

Impact crater specialists have called the impact unusual, and have stated that the meteorite was at least 3 m (10 ft) in diameter before breaking up.

The ground water in the area is known to contain arsenic compounds, and the illness was believed to have been caused by arsenic poisoning incurred when residents of the area inhaled the vapor of the boiling arsenic-contaminated water.

However, further investigations have led to the conclusion that the arsenic content in the groundwater did not differ from that of the local drinking supply, and that the illness reported was likely caused by the vaporization of troilite, a sulfur-bearing compound present within the meteorite in large amounts, and which would have melted at relatively low temperatures and high pressures created by such an impact.

Reported details about the event, such as water boiling in the muddy crater for ten minutes from the heat of the impact, presented a problem for experts. Because the impact site is at a high altitude of more than 3,800 m (12,467 ft), the meteoroid may not have been slowed down as much as it ordinarily would have been by passage through the Earth's denser lower atmosphere, and kinetic energy at impact may have been unusually high for a terrestrial impact of an object of this size and mass. Most larger meteorites are cold in their bulk mass when they land on Earth, since their heated outer layers ablate from the objects before impacting. Meteorites, however, often impact the earth at low temperatures, making this an unusual event

Nature of the Object

27.70g fragment of the Carancas meteorite fall recovered several days after the fall. The scale cube is 1cm3.
The image of the fragment is in the left column.

On September 20, the X-Ray Laboratory at the Faculty of Geological Sciences, Mayor de San Andres University, La Paz, Bolivia, published a report of their analysis of a small sample of material recovered from the impact site. They detected iron, nickel, cobalt, and traces of iridium - elements characteristic of the elemental composition of meteorites. The quantitative proportions of silicon, aluminum, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus are incompatible with rocks that are normally found at the surface of the Earth.

The official classification of the Carancas meteorite, accepted by the Meteoritical Society, was done by a team of scientist working at the University of Arizona. The meteorite is an ordinary chondrite, an H chondrite breccia, containing clasts of petrologic types 4 to 5. The formal classification is H 4-5. The meteoroid had experienced a considerable amount of shock before its ultimate encounter with Earth. Further results are expected, and material is also going to be studied by NASA, British and Japanese researchers according to media reports.

INGEMMET (Instituto Geológico Minero y Metalurgico) of Peru released internally on September 21 a report on the Carancas meteorite fall. The release of the document to the public was delayed for one week. The researchers found that the fragments from the crater zone had a chondritic texture and the following mineral composition:

  • Pyroxene 1 - 40%
  • Olivine - 20%
  • Feldspar - 10%
  • Pyroxene 2 - 10%
  • Kamacite - 15%
  • Troilite - 5%
  • Chromite and native copper - traces
Kamacite occurs naturally only in meteorites.

Data of the Crater
Location Crater is logated near the village of Carancas in the Puno Region, Peru, near the Bolivian border and Lake Titicaca
Coordinates of the location: 16°39'52"S 69°02'38"W
Date of Occurrence At 11:45 local time (16:45 GMT) on September 15, 2007, Saturday noonday
Dimensions The crater size was given as 13.80 by 13.30 meters (45.28 by 43.64 feet), with its greatest dimensions in an east-west direction
Data of the Meteorite
Entering direction The object moved in a direction toward N030E
The meteorite is an ordinary chondrite, an H chondrite breccia, containing clasts of petrologic types 4 to 5. The formal classification is H 4-5
From samples have detected: iron, nickel, cobalt, silicon, aluminum, potassium, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and traces of iridium
  • Pyroxene 1 - 40%
  • Olivine - 20%
  • Feldspar - 10%
  • Pyroxene 2 - 10%
  • Kamacite - 15%
  • Troilite - FeS : 5%
  • Chromite and native copper - traces
Kamacite occurs only in meteorites
A seismograph detected a magnitude 1.5 tremor in the area when the meteorite was reported to have impacted

References used from the Internet:

  • Msnbc: Technology & science "Experts confirm meteorite crash in Peru"
  • Google Earth Community: "The meteorite impact crater high in the Peruvian Andes"
  • BBC News: "Scores ill in Peru 'meteor crash' "
  • "Peru Meteor Mystery"
  • National Geographic: "Meteor Crash in Peru Caused Mysterious Illness"
  • Howstuffworks?: "How did a meteor make hundreds of people sick?"
  • Los Angeles Times: "Meteorite crash landing causes a stir in Peru"
  • CHINAdaily: "Experts confirm meteorite crash in Peru"
  • Wikipedia: "Carancas Impact Event"

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