Out of the Blue Black?

I don’t often do urgent, short(ish) posts – they’re not my style.

But something happened this morning which was so bizarre, even by the sometimes magical and unexplainable rhythms of life here, that I really had to slot in a quick post on this Easter Monday.

I’d got up early for the third morning in a row since I wanted to continue to film, using one second time lapse screen captures on my Camcorder, the antics of a pair of nest building magpies. We’re plagued with them here, and I’ve said before I view them as the gangsters of the avian world. Sharp monochrome suits, and raucous, staccato machine gun style ‘songs’. Also, very bright, and elusive. Perhaps not surprising, since because they’re hanging around the turkey run, and have been known to take both eggs and chicks, I’ve been out with the air rifle to try to keep them on the move. They’re far too clever for me to ever get within actual hitting distance though.

However, when a strange, large circular nest began to be constructed about a week ago 15 feet up in a fir treeS1290016 (2)

barely 25 yards from where the turkeys are sitting on their eggs, I was intrigued and worried.S1290019 (2)

(Turkeys at base of sycamore tree to the left. Nest in fir tree to the right).

I could never see a magpie actually entering or leaving this large tangle of sticks, so hit on the idea of the time lapse. After one dawn session, I had confirmation that the nest was indeed their work. A hive of comic high speed animated activity with occasional pauses whilst they left the scene to gather twigs and such like, had been captured.S1300013 (2) S1300016 (3)

I also discovered yesterday, that I need to make a note of the new snowdrop cultivars’ locations quickly, since there are signs of them tugging out the white plastic plant labels from the frozen soil.

So, this morning I was out of bed again in dressing gown and long johns at 7.30 am BST, (6.30 by last Saturday’s GMT), to set up the tripod and camera, after a bit of a fitful night’s sleep. We’d both been woken in the early hours after hearing what sounded like a loud metallic crashing sound. Since it was fleeting, we weren’t even sure upon waking that we’d actually heard anything at all. Had we dreamed it? There was no wind noise flapping under the roofing felt, so we dozed off again.

After positioning the Camcorder so that it was zoomed onto the magpie nest, I thought I’d do a quick circuit of the house before nipping inside and putting the kettle on.

Then I saw it.

On the iron topped terrace table. I’m including quite a few pictures of it so that readers can appreciate just how large an object it was!

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It must have come out of the blue black night sky. We obviously hadn’t dreamed the crashing sound.

We’d had a wonderful clear starry night,

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at least it had been when I’d gone to bed, and yes, the house does lie under the flight path of high level transatlantic jets heading for America.

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But just WHAT is it?

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A huge crystalline, roughly spherical outlined, multi-faceted ice structure. Thank goodness it fell away from any of the buildings – it would clearly have smashed through the slates, if not further. A bit of research on Google found that it may be what seems to be known as a Megacryometeor, and that these have been recorded occasionally from around the world.SDIM8969 (2)There are debates though about their origin, and in size they can vary from 0.5 Kg to tens of Kg. I’ve no idea how heavy this one was, since it seems to have fused, or dripped in an almost Dali-esque surreal way around some of the metal bars of the table top which Fiona designed a few years ago.SDIM8984 (2)

There it will have to stay, I guess until the sun gradually works away at it. Presumably in spite of its icy nature, the actual impact created a certain amount of heat, since the temperatures were well below freezing all night.

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Some think that a few strange ice structures like this are formed from the discharges from airplane loos, but those structures usually have a bluish colour thanks to the disinfectant, which seems lacking from the above ice “crystal”. Others think that they are just accumulations of ice from the fuselage of high altitude jets, which break away and fall to the ground. The problem with this theory is that apparently there are records of similar icy masses before aircraft were invented. Click here for details on megacryometeors. Others think that some really are meteor variants from outer space, though these usually have a more rounded appearance. Click here, and here for other examples.

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Apparently, Jesus Martinez-Frias, (an interesting name in the light of when this object smashed into our table, and my often mentioned interest in synchronicity), a planetary geologist working at the Madrid Centre for Astrobiology pioneered research into megacryometeors, after ice chunks weighing up to 3 Kg rained on Spain for 10 days out of cloudless skies. Click here for further details.SDIM8972 (2)I do hope that this proves to be a one off, but after seeing the ice vase earlier in the year (click here for images), I’m left wondering how many more novel ice phenomena we are going to experience here before this prolonged winter is over?

Thank goodness that at least there doesn’t seem to be any significant damage to the metal of the table. After flattening one of our metal rocking chairs last year, by taking down a large fir tree which fell at right angles to my planned line of fall, we really have had enough external damage to our rusty furniture!

I’ll finish with a sunnier picture of some of the daffodils along our daffodil walk, which are flowering their hearts out, in spite of the cold.

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22 thoughts on “Out of the Blue Black?

  1. Wow! I didn’t even know megacryometeors existed, Julian. Thank you for sharing this with us. You just never know what nature is going to throw our way. One morning my husband was leaving for work while it was still dark, and suddenly as his hand was on the car door handle the whole sky lit up as if it was midday… a passing meteor through the atmosphere? It’s great that you took lots of pictures of it and did the research. Sleep well tonight!

    Blessings from Canada ~ Wendy

    • Hello Wendy,
      Thanks for the comment. It’s certainly a fascinating structure. It’s so cold that I think it may hang around for a few more days, so I’ll get some more pics – maybe with a sunrise if we get another one soon! Life is always interesting and I really like the comment about your husband and the car door/meteor light. A fortnight ago, as I went into the greenhouse, and closed the door quickly and hard to keep the cold wind out, the 2 fans and the light went out. Fearing a short/tripped switch, I was moving towards the timers to check them out, when they came back on again. I didn’t think any more about it, until I came inside and the computer was down. So indeed a momentary power outage, not a tripped switch, but weird that it happened just as I closed the door!
      Best wishes

  2. Julian, surely if this was some sort of a meteor then the ice would have melted enough to form a more rounded, less angular, shape as it entered the earth’s atmosphere. Your wiki-page doesn’t give a clue re shape! This ice block is very angular and, while ice does form in many and infinite, angular forms, the overall shape and size of this do seem to indicate to me some greater likelihood that it was formed within the earth’s atmosphere. The wiki-page also refers to ice formed by aircraft loos as being blue, as you say, but it also refers to aircraft also forming ice on the exterior of the aircraft – not blue. So I think overall that this is unlikely to be a meteor and more likely to have come from something like an aircraft or even a weather baloon!? What do you think?

    • Hello Rinka,
      And thanks for the comment. After your initial email to me I took up your suggestion of contacting the Met Office, and after a holding email yesterday, which was of course a Bank Holiday, I today received an email back from them which I copy below …
      Dear Julian

      We have had the following response from our expert, who has commented the following:

      ‘Thank you for your email.

      I don’t believe they are Megacryometeors. I think they are possible ice that has fallen off an aircraft or something like that, although I expect we will never be absolutely certain.

      I hope this helps.

      Kind regards


      Weather Desk Advisor

      To which I replied:

      Hello XXXX,
      Many thanks for the reply.
      I guess it will remain a bit of an enigma, but I shall post a few more images of it, as it’s melting rather beautifully,
      Best wishes

      (I never thought I’d end up being able to do a bit of my own ‘REDACTING’!).

      Actually I do have some stunning images from today, which turned out to be gloriously sunny, though still very cold. By the end of today, it’s almost completely disappeared, gradually melting below the table surface.
      But I do like the mystery of it, don’t you?
      Love & BW

  3. Hi Julian,

    I know how much you believe in its ability to keep foxes and rabbits away from your garden but having it dropped from 30,000 feet seems a little excessive-


  4. Hello Dave,
    Thanks for the pithy comment . In fact more good images of it to come next post, which should prove conclusively that it had no bluish colouration to it. Mind you, I suppose the plane could have been using a different brand of disinfectant, particularly if it was one of Richard Branson’s new Virgin Glass bottomed planes,

  5. “Mind you, I suppose the plane could have been using a different brand of disinfectant, particularly if it was one of Richard Branson’s new Virgin Glass bottomed planes,”

    Or none at all if it was a product of one of the budjet airlines!


    Reply ↓

  6. Your sense of humour is undiminished! With reference you Magpie’s nest, should you decide you don’t want them nesting there, do take care not to stand under it when attempting to dismantle it! We know to our cost, they make their nests out of a quite disgusting mix of mud and saliva as a very sticky thick gkue for the twigs etc. It took ages to clean off! Yuk!! Fortunately they have chosen to nest elsewhere ever since….

    • Rinka was too discreet to mention that the whole nest of magpie saliva came down on my head as I was standing underneath it, trying to remove it with a long pole! It happened a year ago and I’m not yet over the experience!

      • Hello C,K, KTB or KTW,
        (BTW, Where’s your gravatar gone?) Anyway Kevin, thanks for the additional warning. I was hoping to lop off the main supporting branch with a mini long reach chains saw, but having had a close shave with the main chainsaw yesterday, I think I’ll bide my time. I’m still having fun with the time lapse of their morning antics…and even turned the camera on myself today for a little clip to show just how quickly a pile of rushes can be mulched with a lawnmower, Charlie Chaplin style no doubt ! Here’s a thought … perhaps if you mounted your Panasonic on a simple baseball cap ledge, and set it to say a frame every 10 seconds, you’d end up with an amazing record of the forthcoming walk? Mind you, you’d need spare batteries, and a waterproof case, and you’d need to keep your eyes fixed on the horizon, which might be tricky clambering up and down those clifftop paths……..

  7. Thanks for the warning Rinka. I’d read about the mud, bit, but not the saliva, Actually that maybe why it’s taking them a long time to complete, because I guess finding anything even vaguely muddy at the moment is tricky (How often can you say that living here!). Water is either frozen, or evaporated away by the winds.
    BW, Julian

    • Interesting your comment about the Gravatar! The problem is that I now seem to have so many onlione accounts that I never know who I am! Seems to me this is the story of life. You start to let go and in no time at all, all hell breaks loose! Now I have become an online schizophrenic! I wonder who I will be in this post!

  8. Stung by your assertion that I have failed to explain your phenomenon, I have to state that the reason for my silence is that I am stumped! As with all jumped-up would-be experts, I will now descend into a welter of commentary that will merely serve to confirm that I haven’t a clue! Before I start, let me remind you that as of 2013, according to both Wikipedia and Melvyn Bragg’s “In Our Time” (Radio 4, Thursday 28th March 2013), we do not yet have a satisfactory explanation even for the slipperiness of ice. So there is much that we do not know about a substance that is incredibly common in our environment. If you are interested, I would certainly recommend that you listen to the discussion on water at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01rgm9g

    Also, in passing, I must mention that there are at last counting at least 15 different forms of water ice and it was in this area that I cast about to try to get at your phenomenon, but without any success. I did wonder whether for instance, your ice phenomenon might have been caused by the formation of ice from super-cooled water on the surface of a plane. This could account for the angled planes of the crystal. Take a look at this experiment on YouTube

    Although the circumstances here are completely different, there is a certain symmetry between the planes of your crystal and the planes in bottle as the ice crystalises. Almost certainly, the phase of ice in your crystal is 1h, or normal hexagonal crystalline ice, which characterises most ice in the biosphere. The fact that there are planes suggests that the crystal is not amorphous ice, which accounts for most extra-terrestrial ice and therefore almost certainly means that your crystal originated from a terrestrial source.

    It is highly unlikely that the crystal emanated from a water source inside an aircraft. Not only would this surely be against the rules, but I know of no design element in a modern plane which facilitate it, though I am of course no expert on airplane design.

    At the cruising altitude of modern jets, given the prevailing temperature and pressure, all water exists as ice (liquid water, or rain, is distinctly a low altitude phenomenon). Undoubtedly, crystals of ice form on surfaces at high altitudes; I’ve seen them myself on the surface of airplane windows, but I find it difficult to believe that there would be sufficient water vapour at high altitude for a crystal as massive as yours to form. It may be that, despite de-icing on the ground, a jet ascending or descending through appropriately humid air could build up large crystals of ice, which could conceivably be dislodged by some sort of turbulence or other atmospheric condition. In the early days of aviation, ice formation on wing surfaces and engine intakes was a real hazard and I remember reading about pilots climbing onto the wings of their aircraft to remove dangerous formations of ice.

    I conclude that this must be the most likely explanation for your phenomenon. I will nevertheless, before laying this fascinating subject to rest, consult with a very good friend who is extraordinarily knowledgeable in matters aviation and he may well be able to contribute more light than the heat I have been generating…..

    • Hello again Kevin,
      Just had a chance to view the You Tube …(Came in from wielding the chainsaw to find your comment and John’s simultaneously).
      What a brilliant bit of science . I loved it. Fantastic. Will have to listen to Melvin later on. Thanks so much for posting it onto the blog. (I’m guessing that since it’s on You Tube , the Beeb will waive their usual £7200 per minute charge for copying their filmed programmes. Otherwise I shall hold you personally responsible and liable!! Or this issue will create some meaty work and thoughts for the lawyers in the family…)

      • Many BBC programmes show up on YouTube and then the Beeb does a scan and the links become inactive, until someone else puts them back up later. In fact YouTube used to take these things seriously. I made a home movie which was accompanied by some music off a couple of CDs of mine. Much to my surprise, YouTube notified me that unless I could prove I had the copyright, the audio (which of course included my own audio!!) would be obliterated, and so it was, automatically! Recently though, Anna tells me that they have relaxed the rules and as long as the source is acknowledged, there is mostly no problem. I see that BBC4 is acknowledged in the clip, so I assume your jail sentence will be minimal.

        As for the loss of tone in the message below, I must agree that you are beginning to attract a lower class of follower. Would you say he belonged to the Precariat?

  9. A large block of ice falling from 30.000feet onto an iron table would result in a demolished iron table and multiple fragmentation of the ice crystal. Unless of course it is glued together with bull****
    Nice try

    • Hello John,
      Welcome to the blog. I’m glad for the asterix, which therefore fortunately doesn’t lower the tone of the generally polite, erudite comments here…. However, I do now regret asking Fiona to select the list of folk to send a round robin email to. I had a sneaking suspicion that one person, who has perhaps reflected on such matters before, might leave this sort of comment…. It could only come from another Vet, eh?
      Julian , The Welsh Sheep farmer ?

  10. It’s interesting that large ice chucks such as big hailstones remain whole on landing, though. And this ice chunck didn’t remain whole, it welded through the fretwork of the table which indicates a considerable force on landing. It is possible the metal dipped a little on the impact, sprang back into shape. So the ice formed ‘somewhere’ and such a formation doesn’t seem to have any plant or animal matter in it or attached to it, so one gathers it fell out tof the sky! Any suggestions, John? But I suppose we’ll never solve this riddle…

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