Mysterious Metal Balls Rained Over Parts of Gujarat
Experts believe the hollow metal balls could either be the debris from a Chinese rocket, or fuel tanks from other space launch vehicles.
“It’s a bird… It’s a plane… It’s Superman!” No, wait, it’s neither. Then, what are the mysterious metal balls falling from the sky, and right onto the western state of Gujarat? This question has baffled locals from different villages spread across the state’s Anand, Kheda, and Ahmedabad districts after they witnessed a bizarre phenomenon in their villages.
The metallic spheres rained over the villages — including Bhalej, Khambholaj, Rampura, Dagjipura, Bhumel, Umreth, and Nadiad, all located within 15 kilometers of one another — last week, between May 12 and 13. While no one is quite sure what exactly they are, what is known so far is that the balls were hollow, about 1.5 feet in diameter, and weighed around five to six kilograms.
Law enforcers are consulting the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and the Physical Research Laboratory (PRL) in Ahmedabad, which is also a state-run institute, to gain insights into the origin of the balls that descended from the skies of Gujarat. Preliminary probes by experts, so far, suggest the objects could be space debris from satellite launch vehicles.
“They primarily appear to be objects made of high-density metal alloys used for rocket launch[es],” said Ajit Rajiaan, Superintendent of Police from Anand. “They were also burnt out and had hints of vapourization, which is what happens when they withstand high temperatures and make their way to the earth… they mostly fell in muddy areas.”
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B.S. Bhatia, a retired scientist from ISRO, too, largely agrees. According to him, the metal balls may actually be storage tanks used in rockets and satellites for hydrazine — a kind of liquid fuel. After they run out, they’re programmed to detach and fall away, he explained, adding that it’s “a very common fuel, primarily used to keep satellites in their orbit.”
In the meantime, Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics has a theory about the origin of heaven’s metallic wrath on Gujarat. According to him, the debris may be traced back to China’s “Chang Zheng 3C serial Y86 rocket” that recently re-entered the atmosphere of the Earth. “The third stage from the [rocket], which launched the [a] communications satellite in Sep[tember] 2021, re-entered today sometime around 0900-1200 UTC… appears a fair match for the re-entry over Gujarat at 1115 UTC May 12 from which debris has been found on the ground,” he tweeted.
The unwarranted, and mostly unprecedented, downpour of metal balls didn’t hurt any human beings, though. A lamb, however, was killed by a fragment of metal that followed the spheres and landed on a sheep pen. “There was a huge sound from the sky and blinding light. I could not see anything but almost the next instant, there was a loud noise and I saw that a metal piece had fallen on a lamb. It was hot and killed the lamb instantly,” an eye-witness told The Indian Express.
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Discourses around the rapidly growing menace of “space junk” are often restricted to their impact on space exploration, or on integral aspects of our modern lifestyles — from GPS to television to scientific advancement. But it’s not the first time debris from space has directly harmed Earth-dwellers on land by injuring them; this happened before with sailors aboard a Japanese vessel in 1969, and a woman from Oklahoma in 1997.
As an article from January noted, “While much is being done to clean up our oceans and our rivers, space debris is the responsibility of all nations who operate there.” That, perhaps, can be inducted into “space goals” to focus on in the coming years.
Interestingly, though, the skyfall has led to a spate of false reports. Reportedly, locals are attempting to use the peculiarity unfolding above their heads as a means to improve their financial situation. “We are cautiously moving ahead with these cases. Many calls are turning out to be frivolous… we received a call from a man who claimed that his buffalo had died after one of these objects fell. On probing, we learn[ed] that he had a loan pending and was trying his luck to get compensation,” noted Rajiaan.
Given the poor state of the Indian economy, it is, perhaps, natural — and, of course, tragic — that people’s desperation is leading them to grasp at something so bizarre in the hope that this might just be what helps them out when nothing else seems to be. For the relatively more privileged, the phenomenon is merely something that has their curiosities piqued — until, its replaced by the next bizarre thing, of course.
Devrupa Rakshit is an Associate Editor at The Swaddle. She is a lawyer by education, a poet by accident, a painter by shaukh, and autistic by birth. You can find her on Instagram @devruparakshit.