Sonic Boom Adds To Kerala, India Mystery




[Original headline: Mystery of the scarlet rains and other tales]

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Scarlet rains and vanishing wells are the setting for the monsoons this time in Kerala.

Yet, the phenomena have sent scientists scurrying around for answers.

Ironically, instead of providing an explanation for the curious happenings, scientists have thrown up more


After testing the red rainwater in Changanassery and other places, scientists at the Centre for Earth Science

Studies (CESS) and Botanic Garden Research (TBGRI) labs have sought answers to four questions: Is the

explosive sound heard preceding the scarlet showers inter-linked? What produced the huge quantity of spores

(believed to have made rainwater reddish)? How were the spores injected into the clouds? If the source is local,

how was the mass transported without getting distributed over a large area?

In fact, the CESS scientists have contradicted their earlier explanation that the scarlet rains were caused by a

meteor which travelled from "east to west on the morning of July 25 and exploded over Changanassery". They

now say that the coloured rains were caused by fungus.

"The biological study conducted partly by the CESS and partly by TBGRI detected red coloured cell structures,

which tentatively have been identified as the spores of some species of fungus," said CESS Director M Baba.

The latest inference is that the coloured rains are a mystery although they have been reports of similar

occurrences in other parts of the world.

The scientists have also rejected reports that the rain was accompanied by thunder and lightning. "Lightning does

not occur during the southwest monsoons. Lightning is produced from large cumulonimbus clouds which develop

only when plenty of humid air is available on the earth's surface. The conditions at the time were not suitable for

this. Secondly, people over a radius of around only 1.5 km heard the sound. This is highly improbable," said Baba.

"Therefore, the only possibility is that the sound was actually a sonic boom produced by some object moving at

supersonic speed at a relatively low altitude. Since no aircraft is expected to fly at supersonic speeds close to the

ground, it is opined that a meteor had approached the area and possibly exploded to produce red colour rain,"

the CESS director said, expanding on the earlier "meteor theory".

Scientists are also divided on why scores of wells have reportedly been damaged or disappeared and new ones

suddenly sprung up. According to one school of thought, these are a warning for impending earthquakes. Others,

however, believe that they are a result of underground water pressure and heavy rains.

Similarly, the sudden shrivelling up of leaves in some areas is puzzling the scientists.

Meanwhile, Kerala chief minister A K Antony has asked people to await the results of the scientific probes.

• Story originally published by:

The Times of India | P K Surendran- Aug 7 2001


Strange Phenomena Continues In Kerala, India

[Original headline: Mystery of the scarlet rains and other tales]

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Even as scientists are yet to reach any definite conclusion about the cause of the 'red

rain' and caving in of wells in Kerala, stranger phenomena like sudden formation of wells and unusual falling of

leaves of plants and trees have been reported from the state.

In the last couple of months about 175 cases of "well collpase" have been recorded from across the state, baffling

the people and experts alike.

In what could be the exact opposite, two cases of natural well-formation have been reported from Kasargode and

Thrissur districts, creating panic among the people.

Villagers of Vellimon in Kollam were witness to a strange spectacle when leaves of plants and trees in

half-a-hectare stretch suddenly started falling in strong wind and drizzle in the morning.

The mystery over `scarlet rain', experienced in parts of central Kerala recently, deepened further as experts from

the Centre for Earth Science Studies (CESS), distanced themselves from their earlier hypothesis that the

phenonmenon could have been caused by dust thrown off by a meteor burst.

They claimed on Saturday that the sample analysis of coloured rain showed the presence of fungal spores.

By its own admission, the "tentative conclusions" leave unanswered questions like what could have produced the

huge quantity of spores and how they got injected into the clouds.

The chemical analyses of the samples showed the presence of carbon, silicon, calcium, magnesium, aluminum,

iron, sodium and pottassium besides significant trace quantities (in parts per million) of phosphurus, titanium,

chromium, manganese, copper and nickel.

The CESS has discounted the possibility of the well-collapse having any link with seismic activity as feared by the


"Bad construction of wells coupled with hydrographic pressures caused by above-normal rains" were cited as main

reasons for the well-collapse.

Taking the general apprehension into account, the state government had, however, sought central help for an

in-depth examination of the phenomenon.

The people of Arimbur village were taken by surprise when land slipped and a well emerged at the courtyard of

one Thanikkal Jose on Saturday. The well is 22 ft deep with muddy water at the bottom.

A similar case has been reported from the homestead of one Sivadas of Kumbala in Kasargode district.

What apparently makes people apprehensive is that many parts of the state experienced mild tremors last year.

Before and after the tremors, unusual waves were found in wells in some places, which experts termed as a

phenomenon called 'seismic seiches' which has nothing to do with an impending earthquake.

• Story originally published by:

The Times of India - Aug 6 2001

Copyright Times Internet Limited 2002

‘Red rain was fungus, not meteor’

(appeared in Indian Express August 6, 2001 click here)


THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, AUGUST 5: The red rain that lashed parts of Kerala last month is eluding explanations as

the days go by.

The Centre for Earth Science Studies (CESS) here on Saturday retracted its hypothesis that a streaking meteor

triggered the rain.

Everybody had taken that explanation with a pinch of salt because other researchers had spoken of biological

contents in the water samples. Yet, the retraction has raised eyebrows about a premier research body’s prudence

in making a hurried announcement.

CESS has not only retracted, but tagged a confession: ‘‘This leaves several questions unanswered.’’ The CESS

press release was triggered by the chemical analysis of the water samples that showed these were largely

biological. Biological studies have identified organic material such as fungal spores in them.

CESS director M. Baba said: ‘‘The exact species is yet to be identified. But how such a large quantity of spores

could appear over a small region is as yet unknown.’’

On July 25, Changanacherry town had received the coloured showers overnight that continued into the morning

and on till sunset. Some residents collected samples of the rain. They said the shower was accompanied by

thunder and lightning.

CESS then collected the samples and tested them. The water was found to be neutral and contained some

amount of dissolved salts.

The filtered precipitate was fine and powdery, and this, said Baba, was chemically and biologically analysed.

The chemical analysis showed various elements — including carbon, silicon, calcium, magnesium, aluminum, iron,

sodium and potassium. It contained significant traces (in parts per million) of phosphorus, titanium, chromium,

manganese, copper and nickel.

The biological study — partly conducted at CESS and at the Tropical Botanic Garden and Research Institute

(TBGRI), Pacha Palode — revealed a red coloured cell structure.

This has been tentatively identified as spores of some fungus species and are now being cultured by the TBGRI.

‘‘The red colour of the rain appears to be mainly because of the spores,’’ Baba said.

These findings, say CESS, raise doubts on whether the explosive sound reported by residents and the red rain

were independent events. There are other posers too which remain unanswered:

What produced the huge quantity of spores ? Is the source local or distant?

How were the spores injected into the clouds?

If the source is not local, how was the mass transported without getting distributed over a large area?

By way of an answer, CESS has only this to say : ‘‘While the cause of the colour in the rainfall has been identified,

finding the answers to these questions is a challenge.’’