Star jelly or Star slime - What is it?: Mystery files
Star jelly - what is it?
Follow a rainbow to where it meets the ground - so the saying goes - and you will find a pot of gold! What do you think you will find if you follow a shooting star to where it meets the ground? Well, according to legend, you will find blobs of a gelatinous substance known as "Star jelly"
Such findings have been reported for centuries, and the substance is known by many different names throughout the world. Here are just a few of it's known aliases - star jelly, Astral jelly, Astromyxin, star blubber,star sluch and star shot. In my own part of the world (Wales in the UK), it is known as pwdr ser or prydredd ser which translates as "Star rot"
According to legend, star jelly is deposited on the earth during meteor showers and is believed to be a product of those shooting stars. It is described as a (usually) whitish/grayish translucent, gelatinous substance which seems to disappear or evaporate shortly after it has fallen.
The history of Star jelly
Reports of Star jelly go back as far as the 14th century but it continues to be regularly reported right up to the present day.
A Latin medical glossary which dates from the fourteenth century contains an entry for something called Uligo which it describes as " A certain fatty substance emitted from the earth which is commonly called "a star which has fallen"
John of Gaddesden (1280-1361), in his medical writings, refers to something called Stella Terrae (which is latin for "Star of the Earth"). He describes it as "a certain mucilaginous substance lying on the earth" which he thought might be good for treating abscesses!
Sir Walter Scott once wrote "It is a common idea that falling stars, as they are called are converted into a sort of jelly. Among the rest, I had often the opportunity to see the seeming shooting of the stars from place to place, and sometimes they appeared as if falling to the ground, where I once or twice found a white jelly-like matter among the grass, which I imagined to be distilled from them, and thence foolishly conjectured that the stars themselves must certainly consist of a like substance"
The finds of star jelly are not confined to historical texts however, in fact, it is surprising just how common such reports are.
In 1950, four police officers from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania reported their find of "a domed disk of quivering jelly six feet in diameter, one foot thick at the centre and an inch or two near the edge". The officers tried to pick the thing up but were surprised to discover that it instantly dissolved into an "odourless, sticky scum". It is said that this incident provided the inspiration for the famous sci-fi movie "The Blob"
In December 1983 a grayish white jelly-like substance fell on to North Reading, Massachusetts. One of the residents, Mr. Thomas Grinley reported that the stuff was all over his lawn, the streets and sidewalks and was even dripping from the pumps at the local Gas Station.
What is this stuff?
There have been many theories over the years as to what this stuff may be, including animal vomit, decomposing frogs and exotic forms of fungi. It doesn't help that the observed examples of star jelly are rarely exactly alike. Some of the descriptions include:
- Thick slimy and black (1638)
- The colour and odour of varnish (1796)
- Buff coloured with a nap like fine cloth (1819)
- Resembling soft soap (1833)
- Gelatinous mass which trembled all over if poked with a stick (1844)
- A glowing purple gelatinous mass (1950)
- Made up of of thousands of tiny cells like a honeycomb (1958)
- Black jelly-like blob which changes colour when punctured(1973)
Another problem that presents itself when identification is attempted, is that the stuff rarely hangs around long enough to be analysed. It invariably evaporates or decomposes within a short period of time, leaving little or no trace.
This was not the case however, on August 11th 1979, when a Mrs. Sybil Christian of Texas reported finding several blobs of purple coloured goo strewn over her front yard following a Perseid meteor shower.
The offending blobs were collected by the local police who managed to freeze the samples before they were able to disintegrate. The samples were sent to NASA in Houston for analysis. NASA, noting that they were discovered near to a battery reprocessing plant suggested that they were nothing more than some sort of waste material produced by the plant.
However, an independent researcher, Ted Schultz, found the "battery waste" explanation wanting. The substance, he said, decomposes rapidly whereas the battery waste does not decompose. The two samples differed in almost every respect - appearance, colour and texture. The substance was described as "like smooth whipped cream" whereas the battery waste was as hard and solid as a rock.
Another incident where enough of the substance was collected for analysis happened in 1994, when the town of Oakville in Washington was subjected to a deluge of gelatinous stuff which lasted several days and apparently produced Flu-like symptoms in most of the townspeople. Testing of the substance revealed what appeared to be Human white-blood-cells and a bacteria that is commonly found in the human digestive system,
The truth is that we are no nearer to knowing what "star jelly" is or where it comes from. Surely something gelatinous with a texture like "smooth whipped cream" could not survive entry into the Earths atmosphere on the back of a meteor - Could it? And yet, it seems that the stuff is found in the aftermath of meteor showers.
Could it be the result of some reaction between a falling star and the ground it lands on? Do all the samples discussed even represent the same phenomenon?
The short answer is that nobody knows, and until we are able to collect (and preserve) enough samples of the stuff, and have them reliably examined, nobody ever will.
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