The Carancas Event

The Carancas Crater

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The last two years, as we all know, have been dominated by Covid in one way or another. It has pit huge numbers of people against each other even when they might otherwise get along. Fear, paranoia, government overreach, distrust, and collapsing economies bring about an even greater degree of social destruction than the virus itself.  

It’s really kind of strange to me in some ways, because we have so much science fiction and apocalypse themed media, but we are still so woefully unprepared to think carefully and think ahead which is generally one of the messages of said entertainment. How could such a little thing, like a microscopic virus cause so much damage.

2005 Film Adaptation of War of the Words 


I’m reminded of H.G. Wells classic “The War of the Worlds” which debuted more than 100 years ago in 1897.


If you’ve listened to this podcast for a while, specifically to the episode “Nikola Tesla and the Martians” you’ll know that the late 1800s and early 1900s were loaded with what I call “Mars Fever”. The idea of extraterrestrials and that they might be just next door was mainstream.

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This knew consciousness would go on to inspire many of the early space pioneers. 


But War of the Worlds stands out in my mind. It sees a group of highly advanced aliens attack the earth. With their massive machines, they are completely dominant and make short work humanity. In the end, when the main character decides he can’t stand to run or hide anymore he moves to confront one of the alien machines, only to discover that the aliens inside had all died because of infections from our planets microscopic pathogens. 

Dead Aliens at the end of 2005's War of the Worlds


Sci-Fi, but also a story as old as time. Guns, Germs, and Steel comes to mind. And in fact, HG Wells was in part inspired by this idea of pathogen export which was common as the British Empire and others expanded across the globe.

Bioweapons are another thread here, in WW2 Imperial Japan dropped bombs full of infected fleas. There is a whole conspiracy about the origin Lyme Disease. And of Course, even Covid gets caught up in this.


But I digress, what I wonder about the most is this War of the Worlds idea. Would some group of war hungry aliens really overlook something like a virus or bacteria? After all, even on earth armies receive dozens of vaccines and have various treatments for localized plagues.


And as we start to explore the solar system once again, and bring back physical samples from other planets, asteroids, and comets as we did with Japans Hayabusa Mission will we consider this possibility? The answer is yes, even the Apollo Astronauts spent time in isolation after returning from the moon, and the probes we send to other places take rigorous measures to prevent contaminating their landing zones.


But nothing we do can account for the wild card. What if space, much like nature here on earth, doesn’t give us a choice?  There is one recent event that could have been this exact scenario, and that’s the main topic for this episode.


September 15th, 2007, at 11:45am outside the village of Carancas in Southern Peru, a fireball was seen streaking across the sky, just before it impacted in the remote highlands near Lake Titicaca. Later reports claimed to see the fireball as far as 12miles away, and the impact was recorded by instruments based well into in the neighboring country of Bolivia.


The first people to the scene of the impact were local farmers. What they discovered was a crater 98 feet wide and some 20 feet deep. It quickly filled with water due to the low water table of the area. By the time the authorities arrived dozens of people were checking out the crater and collecting pieces of the meteorite, which had exploded on impact. The groundwater that filled the crater is said to have been boiling, and a harsh sulfuric smell coming with it, some of the alleged fragments of the meteor were also said to be steaming or smoking. 


Shortly after the initial fanfare though, the onlookers and residents of the local area began coming down with a range of symptoms from headaches to dizziness, to vomiting with no way to readily explain it. 

Attention quickly turned to the mysterious new space rock, and the fragments some had taken home with them.


The meteorite itself was in fact kind of unusual given the circumstances. It was what’s called a “Chondritic Meteorite”. One made of space rock and dust formed over ridiculous periods of time. It was unusual because these kinds of meteors aren’t generally able to make it to the earths surfaces without breaking up or burning up in the atmosphere, especially ones of this size which by all accounts should have disintegrated. 

To make things more suspicious, these types of meteors are also of interest to scientists because they can contain lots of organic material. And it is thought that they may have played an important role in the spread of that material onto earth and throughout the solar system. They often contain clays and similar substances which of course require water to form. You have no doubt heard of a few of the possible organic compounds they can carry, things like Amino Acids, Hydrocarbons, and phosphates.

Suspicion grew in the area that perhaps the crater and the fragments of the meteorite were toxic. Some even believed that perhaps they were cursed or otherwise bad omens from gods long gone, and they would seek religious help.  Making things worse, several animals would fall ill, and some would even die after drinking water. Fear grew that the local water supply had become contaminated.


Some 200 people were evaluated for illness, but no direct cause could be found.  As the story spread, so did the hysteria. Concern that a type of Psychosis was taking hold and causing an unnecessary panic drove officials to pursue more rigorous scientific explanations. 


The groundwater in the area is known to contain small amounts of arsenic, but it was found to be within safe levels, even within the water of the crater itself. Other compounds like Sulphur, and troilite found in the meteorite itself would be blamed. 


Ultimately the most accepted explanation was that the hot meteor slamming into the ground and boiling the water released a variety of sulphuric gases. The early visitors were the must prone to the illness since the water was still boiling or at least very hot. And their symptoms were related to inhaling large amounts of these fumes. 

A boiling cauldron of mud water and sulfur at Yellowstone Park 


All the reported illnesses ended up resolving within about 4 days. And the issue faded into memory without anyone ever really knowing exactly what the cause of the illness was.


This event is referred to as “The Carancas Event” and it is unique in many ways. Notably the gasses, vapors, heat being observed so soon after the impact, the nature of the asteroid itself, and the mystery illness that followed it.


Our planet is one tiny blue dot floating in an endless expanse of possibilities. Given the lack of a clear, proven resolution to events like this one, and our inability to handle earth-based illnesses in a consistently rational way that doesn’t destroy societies in its own right, I’m not exactly filled with confidence in our current ability to handle something like a threat from space… And what if it was intentional, and the hypothetical War of the Worlds aliens were smart enough to target us with one of their pathogens before they started the war? 


All things to think about.


Well, that’s all I had for this episode, be sure to check out the link to in the episode description to see some pictures of the crater and fragments of the meteorite, along with some extra reading concerning the Carancas Event. And if you haven’t already click subscribe on Apple, Spotify, YouTube or wherever you like to listen


Cya next time!

War of the Worlds 2005