The go-to explanation for giant iceballs from space that are too large to be hail and too non-blue and non-stinky to be waste dumped from airplane toilets is ‘megacryometeor’ – a rare frozen space ball whose cause researchers can’t seem to agree on and whose dangerous propensity to crash into homes the government doesn’t seem to be worried about protecting us from. Do we need a Pentagon investigation or should we hold a telethon? Either one might help a family in Elk Mound, Wisconsin, who is the latest victim of this insidious space invader.
“It grazed me. I would’ve probably been out, kicked the bucket [if it landed on me]. As soon as that came through, everything else was like dust of insulation. I couldn’t see.”
Ken Millermon of Elk Mound, a small village in western Wisconsin near Eau Claire, sounds happy to be alive after his bedroom was the target of a 12-pound ice ball on May 25, 2021. Millermon called his insurance agent since it looked like a lot of damage (see photos here) and they’re generally more responsive than the government. Then he called the local news media, which spread the photos around and tried to find an answer.
“While some people suggest megacryometeors really just come from airplanes. Some people say well it's the head or the bathroom of the airplane, or maybe it's coming out of the wheel well. That explanation doesn't hold up if we have samples back in the 1700s.”
Well, that eliminates a plane poopsicle, according to Dr. James Boulter, a chemistry and biochemistry professor at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claie (UWEC). Boulter also agrees with meteorologists who say it’s far too big to be a hailstone, along with the fact that the storm in the area that night wasn’t powerful enough to create hail. For the “I’m not saying it’s aliens, but …” crowd, Boulter has tests he runs on giant ice balls (a potential band name?) and eliminated the possibility of this one coming from outer space. However, it could still be a type of meteor.
“We think, it's likely to be a megacryometeor. These have been observed around the world to a tune of maybe a dozen or so a year.”
Being a good professor, Boulter turned this mysterious ice ball into a learning experience for his students. While they know about the troposphere, the part of the atmosphere hugging the ground where we humans live, and the stratosphere, the next layer which is extremely stable and has no turbulence, few are aware of the thin layer in-between them known as the tropopause. Hovering somewhere between 5.6 and 11 miles up (it’s thicker over the equator), it’s the point where air no longer cools with height, instead becoming completely dry. While generally stable, Boulter says that certain unknown activities in the jet stream can create a fold in the tropopause, causing the stratosphere to mix with the troposphere, creating weird conditions that could cause ice crystals to form fast enough to accumulate into giant ice ball 'megacryometeors' before falling to the earth and into bedrooms.
“The conditions to create something of this magnitude up there have to be pretty interesting, with a dozen or so of these things a year of just the ones that have been reported. Imagine all the ones that fall over oceans or forests; there's probably a lot more of these than we actually know about.”
As Ken Millerman might say – 'Who cares … what about our roofs?' A study of megacryometeors sounds like the perfect subject for a PhD dissertation or a grant … or a project for certain billionaires to research as they send their private crafts to the edge of space and back.
That whooshing sound you hear is lawyers for airlines breathing a sigh of relief.
(Special thanks to BT!)