Haven’t done that in a while, hey, remember acid rain?
Being an 80s kid there were a lot of things to be scared of, like nuclear war, razors in Halloween candy, and this chick..
But somewhere on that list of scary things was acid rain. I mean the idea of acid falling from the sky, that’s… evocative.
You never really hear about acid rain anymore, what was that about?
It came from sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides in the emissions of fossil fuel combustion, both from cars and industry.
That would go up into the air and combine with oxygen and water, forming sulphuric acid and nitric acid.
This would then condense into droplets and fall with the rain.
So while it wasn’t like hydrochloric acid was falling from the sky and melting the flesh of anybody it lands on, it was corrosive and killed marine life in some Canadian and US lakes, even stripped forests bare in Europe and damaged crops in China.
And the reason we don’t hear about it as much anymore is because we passed laws that curtailed the release of those emissions, and we fixed the problem. Go us.
It’s hard to imagine something scarier than acid falling from the sky, like if it rained blood or something. Good thing that’s never happened. Oh my.
Throughout history, there have been many cases of strange or mysterious things falling from the sky. It’s kind-of a whole thing actually.
You might remember my video on the Oakville blobs, when strange gelatinous blobs fell on the town of Oakville, Washington. Which is still unsolved actually.
Spoiler alert, this one has been solved. But it’s still super weird.
It all happened on the morning of July 25, 2001 in Kerala, India. It was raining that morning, there’s nothing unusual about that.
But Shri Vijayakumar noticed something strange when he got home.
The rainwater in his backyard was red. Rain collected in vessels was also red.
He talked to his neighbors. Rainwater in their yards was also red.
While asking around, he learned that the strange rain had fallen in an area that covered about 30 houses.
And it wasn’t just one day. It happened sporadically until September 23.
It wasn’t just red rain that fell. Some reports said that yellow, green, and black rain also fell.
Some witnesses in 2001 said the red rain was followed by loud thunder and lightning flashes. You know, like a thunderstorm.
Still, others claimed that after the rain fell many trees shed their leaves, which turned gray and looked like they were burned.
One of the witnesses was Godfrey Louis, who is a physicist at nearby Cochin University of Science and Technology.
He collected samples of the rainwater and looked at them under an electron microscope and saw something weird.
So, of course, he speculated that he had found…
Like acid rain, one of the earliest theories was that red rain was caused by chemical pollution.
Like maybe some rust from a factory or some other chemical in storage got caught up in the air and mixed with water.
But red rain was reported in the past before factories came along. And not just in India.
Like, “blood rain” is mentioned in the Iliad, and 12th-century writer Geoffrey of Monmouth referred to it in his writings.
Or, maybe it was ash from a volcano. Ash can stay up in the air for a long time, and maybe its composition got mixed with the rain, turning it red.
And there was an eruption recently in the summer of 2001 in the Philippines at the Mayon volcano. So, perfectly reasonable theory.
Or maybe a meteor exploded. People did say there was a loud cracking sound before the rain started.
But if a meteor explosion did cause it, then how come the red rain continued over two months?
That doesn’t make sense. In fact, only one explanation makes sense in this case.
Okay, not ALIEN aliens, but something extraterrestrial. Which brings us back to Godfrey Louis.
When he studied the rain droplets under a microscope, he didn’t find any evidence of sand or dust.
But he did see that the water was filled with red cells that looked like bugs. Thing is, there wasn’t any DNA in the cells.
He published his results in the journal Astrophysics and Space in 2006, suggesting that the cells could be extraterrestrial.
Maybe they came from a comet that disintegrated in the upper atmosphere and then seeded clouds when the cells floated down to Earth.
He writes in the paper that the sonic boom heard by some people is evidence of a disintegrating comet in the atmosphere.
And the rain seemed to land in an elliptical area of 450km by 150km, so he speculated that a disintegrating comet would flare out in that pattern.
He suggested that the comet would have been traveling from north to south in a southeast direction above Kerala.
Louis speculated that more than 85 percent of the red rain cases happened during the first 10 days after the airburst event.
And he said that the time day between the airburst and the rain could be explained by the slow settling of the microscopic red rain particles in the atmosphere.
As Louis writes in the study:
“Are these cell like particles a kind of alternate life from space? If the red rain particles are biological cells and are of cometary origin, then this phenomena can be a case of cometary panspermia…”
I’ve covered panspermia on here before, it’s the hypothesis that life is prevalent throughout the universe and that it can be distributed via asteroids, comets, or meteorites.
So he partnered up with one of the leading voices of the panspermia theory, a scientist named Chandra Wickramasinghe.
They studied the cells for a few years and what they found was pretty extraordinary.
Apparently, the cells can reproduce at 121 degrees Celsius but are inert at room temperature.
As they wrote in a 2010 study:
“The flourescence behaviour of the red cells is shown to be in remarkable correspondence with the extended red emission observed in the Red Rectangle planetary nebula and other galactic and extragalactic dust clouds, suggesting, though not proving an extraterrestrial origin.”
Then in 2013, a paper was published in Microbiology showing that DNA was in the red rain cells.
The researchers wrote that:
“Cellular impermeability to staining reagents due to the red pigment is the likely explanation for the failure of previous efforts to demonstrate DNA in red rain cells.”
Stated in something slightly more resembling English, they’re saying the red coloring made it harder to find the DNA. But it’s there.
While they claim the presence of DNA, they also don’t know where the red rain cells came from. Was it some kind of panspermia situation? Or did it have a terrestrial origin? All they could do is just wait for it to happen again.
And in 2014 in Zamora, Spain… It happened again.
This time, a resident sent rainwater samples to scientists at the University of Salamanca.
There, they studied the water and found particles of Haematococcus pluvialis, which is a green freshwater alga.
A green alga that does a bit of a magic trick when it’s chemically stressed – it turns red.
The red color comes from a carotene pigment called astaxanthin.
But the red rain in India was caused by a different alga called Trentepohlia annulata.
Which sounds like mystery solved but there was one more twist – T. annulata isn’t native to India. In fact, it was believed to only exist in Austria.
So, how did it make its way to India? It just went where the wind took it, mannnn.
The species grew a lot during heavy rains and released a ton of spores into the air. Elements in the spores reacted with elements in the rain, which then turned reddish-brown.
And that alga that fell on Spain? It traveled the same way from North America.
So, it’s not always aliens that cause things we don’t understand. In fact, we should probably stop saying that altogether and actually do the work to figure out the ins and outs of our world.
Because the red rain was mostly harmless. Other things aren’t so harmless.
Ever heard of Valley fever? It’s an infection you get by breathing in spores of the fungus Coccidioides.
The spores can survive heat and drought and often just hang out in the soil. But when it’s stirred up by things like construction, walking, or wind, those spores get lofted into the air.
They’re mainly found in the Southwest. In fact, 97 percent of all U.S. cases of Valley fever are reported in Arizona and California.
But now they’re increasingly getting diagnosed outside of that area.
A study in the journal GeoHealth predicted that because of climate change, Valley fever could spread east across the Great Plains and north to the Canadian border by the end of the century.
Oh yeah, and there’s currently no vaccine for it.
But hey, we fixed acid rain – maybe we can do it again.
What are your favorite stories of weird things falling from the sky? Ever experienced it yourself? Let me know in the comments.