red rain of Kerala
||The southern Indian state of Kerala where in July–September
2001 a strange red rain fell over a period of several weeks. The rain
began on July 25 following reports of a bright flash and boom.
||The first red rain fell in the districts of Kottayam and Idukki
in the southern part of the state. Other colors, including yellow,
green, and black rains were reported. Many occurrences of the colored
rain were witnessed over the first 10 days of the phenomenon, followed
by less frequent downpours until late September. The coloration of
the rain was due to particles in suspension in the rain water. At
times the collected water was as red as blood. Typically it fell in
very localized areas, no more than a few square kilometers, and for
about 20 minutes per shower.
||At first, scientists thought that sand blown in from Arabia might
be responsible. But microscopic examination of the red particles in
the rain, by Indian government scientists and also, independently,
by Godfrey Louis and his research student A. Santhosh Kumara at Mahatma
Gandhi University (Kottayam, Kerala), showed that they were definitely
not sand grains. They more closely resembled cells and appeared to
be biological in origin. They were composed of 50% carbon, 45% oxygen,
plus smaller amounts of other elements.
||Coupled with the report of a flash and boom which may have come
from a meteorite, the appearance of the "cells" led Louis to suggest
that the red rain was extraterrestrial in origin. He suggested that
the red material came from a comet,
a piece of which broke off and entered the Earth's atmosphere before
streaking across the skies of southern India, seeding the clouds above
Kerala with the enigmatic particles. The official government investigation
concluded the redness was caused by algal spores that had somehow
been swept up into the atmosphere.
||Further examination of the red rain particles using optical and
electron microscopes has not yet resolved the mystery. At Sheffield
University, England, microbiologist Milton Wainwright and his colleagues
have confirmed the cell-like appearance and have reported finding DNA using fluorescent stains such as DAPI.
Despite this, researchers at Cardiff University, Wales, led by Chandra Wickramasinghe have been unable
to extract and amplify DNA from the particles. Wickramasinghe is convinced
that the "cells" are biological but of an unfamiliar nature.
The three cells shown here are about 3 micrometers in diameter, with
thick cell walls and a variety of nanostructures within a membrane,
but with no identifiable nucleus. Image: © Cardiff Centre for
Astrobiology, Cardiff University.
||This picture shows a single cell with a shrunken membrane containing
what appear to be 'daughters' cells. Two of the daughters have well-defined
cell walls while the third structure may be a further daughter in
the process of development. Oddly, it does look like a classic "alien"
face! Wickramasinghe also claims to have found DNA in the cells but
says this needs to be confirmed. Image: © Cardiff Centre for
Astrobiology, Cardiff University.
||So, was the red rain of Kerala extraterrestrial? Most scientists
remain skeptical although they don't rule out the possibility. No
one has yet come up with a water-tight counter-explanation for the
strange cells. Meanwhile, those in favor of the "alien" hypothesis
say it offers strong evidence for the theory of panspermia – that life can be seeded on worlds from space. A paper by Louis
and Kumara1 was published in 2006 in the peer-reviewed
journal Astrophysics and Space Science.
Links to historical and mythical accounts
A study2 by doctoral student Patrick McCafferty, of Queen's University
Belfast, suggests the claimed connection between red rain and extraterrestrial
life may be consistent with historical accounts linking colored rain to
meteor events. McCafferty analyzed "80 accounts of red rain, another 20
references to lakes and rivers turning blood-red, and 68 examples of other
phenomena such as colored rain, black rain, milk, bricks, or honey falling
from the sky." Sixty of these events, or 36 percent, "were linked to meteoritic
or cometary activity." However the connection was not always strong. Sometimes,
"the fall of red rain seems to have occurred after an airburst," as from
a meteor bursting apart; other times the phenomenon "is merely recorded
in the same year as a stone-fall or the appearance of a comet." The events
were recorded in times and places as varied as ancient Rome, medieval Ireland,
Norman Britain, and 19th century California; McCafferty added that tales
suggestive of red rain-meteor links also crop up in myth.
conclusive evidence such as meteoritic dust mixed with red rain, it is difficult
to say anything specific about Kerala's red rain," McCafferty wrote. But
in history, he added, "there appears to be a strong link between some reported
events [like it] and meteoritic activity. The reported airburst just before
the fall of red rain in Kerala fits a familiar pattern, and cannot be dismissed
so easily as an unrelated coincidence."
In their book The Cycle of Cosmic Catastrophes,3 Richard
Firestone, Allen West, Simon Warwick-Smith refer (pp. 308-309) to an Incan
legend which describes a sticky blood rain falling from the sky and covering
everything. This was part of the destructive forces of nature that immersed
the Inca city that is now at the bottom of Lake Titicaca. [Thanks
to David Paulsen, Keaau, Hawaii, for this reference.]
- Godfrey, Louis & A. Santhosh Kumar. "The Red Rain Phenomenon of Kerala
and its Possible Extraterrestrial Origin." Astrophysics and Space
Science, Vol. 302, No. 1-4. (2006), pp. 175-187.
- McCafferty, P. "Bloody rain again! Red rain and meteors in history
and myth." International Journal of Astrobiology, accepted
June 13, 2007.
- Firestone, R. B. West, A., and Warwick-Smith, S. The Cycle of
Cosmic Catastrophes. Rochester, VT, Bear & Co., 2006.