Tue 8 Feb 2011
**Update** NASA tentatively identifies the metal as from an Indian launch
Sorry for the slow posts – it is a very busy week. And the coffee maker broke this morning. And my wife got lost on the way to the mall to buy a new one. Tomorrow morning is going to be less than fun.
Anyway, to keep my work-and-caffeine related whining in perspective, I bring you METAL FROM THE SKY. Mary Thompson, one of my Ph.D. students (you may remember her from hits such as this) is currently in Malawi, working around the Mt. Mulanje Forest Reserve to assess the use of the reserve by surrounding communities and the impact of a growing fortress conservation mentality on local livelihoods. It’s a great project, and we have built into it some serious efforts to assess forest impact via transect walk sampling and some fun work with satellite imagery.
So Mary just posted to her Facebook page (<<in grumpy old man voice>> in my day, we didn’t have Facebook . . . we had nonfunctioning landlines that we could reach once every two weeks . . .) an amusing story and picture.
So, last night at about 11pm there was this loud rumbling noise coming from somewhere. I kept thinking that if this was thunder it is the longest lasting thunder I’ve ever heard. And it was clear out. So eventually it stopped and didn’t happen again and I went to sleep. So this morning the people who work here said they think it was probably a small earthquake on the mountain or somewhere. Rare but not totally uncommon. I thought that was pretty cool and didn’t give it too much thought aside from giving my research assistants a lesson on how earthquakes work.
Then, we were leaving Monjomo village and passed a man that we knew from Likhubula on his bike and stopped him to ask the quickest way back on our bikes. He told us, and then said that he had just been to Chambe (a few miles up the road from where I live) where last night something metal had fallen from the sky and made the big noise everyone had heard and there was a rumor that another piece had been found at another village some distance away. So, of course we had to go check it out. we got there and there were hundreds of people hanging out for the excitement. This is very rural Sub-Saharan Africa, excitement here can be a little hard to come by. The police were there and had roped off a section of someone’s maize field (that had been flattened by all the people). In the center was a piece of metal a little longer than my arm that clearly belonged to some sort of machinery at some point. Since I’m a visitor (aka since I’m white and had a camera) they let me go under the rope barrier to take pictures. VIP UFO treatment for sure.
The chief of the neighboring village where I had been working for the past three months said she heard the loud noise and then her house was rattling and she thought it was a landslide from rocks on the mountain but she went outside and everything was lit up like electric lights (which they definitely don’t have) and she got scared and went back in the house.
I’ve never seen a plane over this area (doesn’t mean they don’t pass over from time to time), so who knows…
So, here is a picture of what fell from the sky:
OK gang, WTF is that? I can see a hinge at top left, and what looks like shearing on the part of the object nearest to us in the picture. The metal looks alloy, but what the hell do I know? Ideas? Anyone?
**Update 9 February**
Mary just sent me a message:
So, I emailed NASA’s Orbital Debris Program’s chief scientist and he said that the description and time fit well with an Indian rocket body that had been launched on the 2nd of Feb and reentered near this area on Feb 7th. I may change careers to UFO investigator.