Of all the weird and unexplained weather phenomena, megacryometeors are some of the strangest. These huge blocks of ice have been known to fall from perfectly clear skies and in all types of temperature conditions. Meteorologists don’t currently have a solid explanation for what causes these massive chunks of ice to form and fall, and some even contend that they’re not a natural phenomenon at all and instead likely fall off of airplane fuselages. Reports of these meteors, however, predate the invention of air travel and have come in from areas outside of flight paths. Scientists still barely understand this phenomenon due to its rarity and unpredictability.
A family in Scotland got a lucky close-up glimpse at one lately, though – too close, in fact. The Helliwell family of Busby, Renfrewshire were at home when they heard a loud, dull explosion outside and their dog began growing agitated. The family ran outside to discover a crater measuring 1.4m by 1.2m (4.5 ft by 4 ft) just a few feet from their home and cars. Inside and around the crater were solid chunks of ice.
Family friend Eleanor Stephen was at the home when the meteor fell, and described a surreal scene moments after the impact:
I was sitting at my desk and heard this big boom. I thought it was an explosion and I felt the house shake. When I went downstairs the dog was acting strangely. I looked out of the window and saw a hole with white stuff in it. I went out and touched it. I realised it was ice. If anybody had been out in the garden, it could have killed them. We just don’t know where it came from. It’s a complete mystery.
Lyndsey Helliwell says the family is fortunate that no one was seriously hurt when the meteor fell:
It’s slightly concerning that it was so close to the house, and Harper our dog is constantly out in the garden because it’s secluded. If it had been Saturday or a Sunday the kids could have been out playing football, or my older daughter could have been playing with Harper.
Very few scientific studies of megacryometeors have been conducted, but a 2005 study concluded that many of “these large ice conglomerations occurred during non-thunderstorm conditions, suggesting an alternative process of ice growth was responsible for their formation.” Since they are rare, unpredictable, and usually melt shortly after falling, scientists rarely get to study these mysterious icy death traps.
Jesús Martínez-Frías, a planetary geologist from Madrid, Spain, believes megacryometeors could form under a specific and rare set of atmospheric conditions in which the troposphere is warm, the stratosphere is cold and humid, and there is wind shear in the upper atmosphere. Solid particles of dust and other small particulates can trap water vapor and cause it to freeze, starting a chain reaction that results in these large meteors spontaneously forming. Scientists still aren’t quite able to test these theories, though, making these megacryometeors an unsolved mystery to this day.