Page last updated at 18:18 GMT, Monday, 26 October 2009

Doubts over Latvia 'meteor crash'

People stand beside the crater near Mazsalaca (26 October 2009)
A military unit dispatched to the site found normal levels of radiation

Scientists investigating a large crater in a field in northern Latvia, believed to have been caused by a meteorite, now suspect it was a hoax.

Fire crews were called to the scene on Sunday outside the town of Mazsalaca by locals who said something had fallen from the sky and set the land on fire.

One expert who had said the 9m (27ft) wide crater was caused by an impact, said he now thought it was artificial.

The hole was too tidy to have been caused by a meteorite, he said.

It would be unusual for such a large meteorite to hit the Earth, as most objects burn up in the atmosphere and never reach the surface.

In 2007, a meteorite ploughed into the countryside near the Andean town of Carancas in Peru, creating a 15m (50ft) wide crater.

'Pyrotechnic compound'

On Monday, a spokeswoman for the Latvian State Fire and Rescue Service said firefighters had been told by a witness about a fire in a field near Mazsalaca at 1730 (1530 GMT) the previous day.

"We concluded that the impact must have come from the air and this is why we believe it could have been a meteorite," Inga Vetere said.

Meteorites are not 'on fire' or even hot when they land on Earth
Caroline Smith, Meteorite Curator, Natural History Museum, London

A military unit sent to the site found normal radiation levels.

Uldis Nulle, a scientist at the Latvian Environment, Geology and Meteorology Centre, said his first impression after visiting the site late on Sunday had been that the crater was caused by a meteorite.

However, on closer inspection in daylight he found that the hole was too tidy to have been caused by a genuine impact.

"This is not a real crater. It is artificial," he told the Associated Press.

Caroline Smith, meteorite curator at London's Natural History Museum, told the BBC that the photographs and video footage of the site, and the material burning in the bottom of the hole, indicated that it was not an impact crater.

"Meteorites are not 'on fire' or even hot when they land on Earth," she said.

"Additionally, there have been no witness reports of any large 'fireball' sightings in the region on Sunday afternoon, when the crater was allegedly formed."

Latvian Geologist Dainis Ozols said he believed someone had dug a hole and tried to make it look like a meteorite crater by burning a pyrotechnic compound at the bottom.

It is thought the meteorite would have to have been at least 1m (3ft) in diameter to create a crater that size.

The owner of the land is now selling tickets to people who want to see the crater, reportedly to pay for wear and tear on the road.

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