Sunday, September 30, 2007

Stinkbomb from the sky

An error that appeared in the first draft of this post has been corrected. Hydrogen sulfide was misdesignated as HS2, when it should be H2S.

Because of conflicting data, I had trouble with the energy calculations. So I have erased them from this post and will report them in the next post.

Hydrogen sulfide (H2S) may be the culprit in the strange ailment that afflicted Peruvians who rushed to the meteor crash site.

Hydrogen sulfide is a poisonous gas released during flatulence and in connection with petroleum refining processes. It is found in natural gas deposits and sometimes in groundwater. In low doses, the gas, which has a "rotten egg" odor, induces eye and respiratory irritation and nausea. In higher doses, it is fatal.

The several dozen people who were sickened by the fumes emanating from the crater complained of those symptoms and reported a foul, sulfurous odor.

The bolide apparently plowed below the water table and generated enough heat to boil the water, which, in my estimate, emitted steam laden with H2S. Peruvian geophysicists recognized gray dust around the crater as pulverized meteor rock, showing the likelihood that the bolide hit with enough energy to bring a pondful of water to a boil. Witnesses reported that the meteor streaked to ground as a luminescent fireball, trailing a smoky tail, from some 1000 meters out.

Usually, meteors don't land hot, having burned off their outer layers by the time they hit. But this one may have defied the norm.

Not only was the bolide -- if that's what it was -- unusual in remaining fiery hot in the lower atmosphere, the striking of an H2S-laced water table with enough impact and heat energy to emit poison gas is also quite unusual, I'd say.

Additionally, according to experts, such a bolide event, which occurs roughly every 26 years, often leaves a field of craters from fragmentation of the meteor during descent. No crater field was reported.

So, anyway, just to add to the intrigue: Hydrogen sulfide is used to process deuterium, a neutron moderator used in nuclear reactors. Who knows? Maybe there is a classified technology for using H2S on board a satellite rather than prior to launch, which is what would be expected. And I wondered about the possibility of a reverse process, but have no clue as to whether a sudden infusion of deuterium ("heavy water") into ordinary groundwater could release clouds of H2S. Somehow I think that fairly unlikely.

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