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Red rain

June 7th, 2006 · 2 Comments

Red rain

“As bizarre as it may seem, the sample jars brimming with cloudy, reddish rainwater in Godfrey Louis’s laboratory in southern India may hold, well, aliens. In April, Louis, a solid-state physicist at Mahatma Gandhi University, published a paper in the prestigious peer-reviewed journal Astrophysics and Space Science in which he hypothesizes that the samples—water taken from the mysterious blood-colored showers that fell sporadically across Louis’s home state of Kerala in the summer of 2001—contain microbes from outer space.”

Popular Science – Is It Raining Aliens?

Tags: strangeness + randomness

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 David Pollard // Jul 14, 2006 at 11:10 pm

    It is a rather sad comment on the ‘developed’ world and our comprehension of science that science magazines and blogs should be full of discussion of the ‘spores from space’ explanation of the red rain in Kerala while the simpler, albeit ghastly, explanation that this was the result of incomplete incineration of biocidal waste goes almost entirely ignored.

    Without much doubt, the red raindust came from an incinerator in the south of Kerala. The pattern of fallout matches well with what would be expected from the prevailing winds. The core of the particles is partly burnt chemical waste and the ‘wall’ is fly-ash, microparticles of clay, that coalesced around the sticky organic aerosol as the plume cooled. The elemental analayis in Godfrey Louis’s paper 0601022 matches what would be expected from clay plus burnt organics. The density of the particles is, as would be expected, somewhat higher than that of spores – the raindust is reported as settling in water within a fairly short time, spores don’t.

    It is surprising that no one seems to have actually measured the density of the particles, or to have crushed them and measured the relative density of the core and the wall of the ‘cells’. Neither does it seem that standard analytic techniques such as high pressure liquid chromatography (HPLC) have been used. It would be a fairly straightforward matter to discover what chemicals are in the core. In none of the ‘scientific’ reports does this appear to be mentioned, despite the relative ease with which the analysis could be done. It is perplexing that none of the researchers seems to have been interested in using simple and obvious tests to find out what is actually in the raindust.

    The equivocation over the prescence of DNA is explained by contamination: the samples were taken from rainfall collected in buckets or runoff from roofs.

    The apparent ‘replication’ of the cells is a simple physical process. See, for example, the work of Jack Szostack at Harvard on abiogenesis.

    What is really worrying about this whole business is that the educated, sophisticated and scientific western world appears happy to delude itself with fantasies about aliens from space while ignoring the real and obvious damage that we inflict on the whole world. It’s not just in India that chemical pollution goes unrecognised; and a good few persistent biocides do spread across the whole of the biosphere and enter the entire food chain.

    Those who doubt might care to use their favourite search engine with the terms [+Kerala +2001 +endosulphan] and take it from there. (Local pressure groups and some members of the government seem to be winning, slowly.)

    Oh, by the way, for those who like a good story to complement their science, there was a novel called ‘Silent Spring’ written by Rachel Carson a few decades ago. She may not have been so wide of the mark.

    Best Regards,
    David Pollard


    42 Sunningwell Road, Oxford OX1 4SX
    +44 (0) 1865 240048

  • 2 Steve // Jul 17, 2006 at 4:39 pm

    Cheers david for the comments ! I’ll look up that book right now.