Bournemouth University

School of Applied Sciences

Bacteria colonies, eggs or ice? The truth is out there ...

Date: 31 January 2012

Researchers at Bournemouth University’s School of Applied Sciences have helped BBC journalists identify some mystery blue balls, which fell from the sky in a hail storm. The pictured spheres were found in Steve Hornsby’s back garden in East Howe after a hailstorm on 26 January.

Meteorologists were unable to identify the balls so the BBC contacted Bournemouth University. Initial suggestions included nostoc; a bacteria which grows underwater in gelatine-like colonies and another pointed to partially melted hailstones. It was also suggested that they might be marine invertebrate eggs.

Speculation grew online, with many theories including alien eggs and burst breast implants, and the story was featured the BBC, The Sun, The Daily Mail and The Guardian online. Was this going to be Bournemouth’s Roswell, with unidentified alien beings found in a back garden in Howe?

The only way to establish the truth was to pick up some samples and take them to Bournemouth University’s School of Applied Sciences and hand them to Research Assistant Josie Pegg. She has since run tests to conclude, once and for all, the mystery of the blue balls:

“A desiccated sample of the mystery jelly has been processed and analysed using Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) spectrometry. The sample – now a tiny fraction of its former size, and with a dehydrated mass over 100 times less than in its original hydrated form was tested using a tool more usually exploited within the School of Applied Sciences in forensic scenarios. FTIR spectroscopy produces an infrared absorption spectrum of a sample that is like a molecular "fingerprint"- this spectrum can then be compared to a reference library to identify unknown substances. Test results from the mystery jelly identified Acrylic acid, the salt of which - Sodium polyacrylate- is also commonly known as ‘waterlock’ and is widely used in consumer products from disposable nappies to agriculture, including floristry hydrating gels.”

So science wins the day and we now know the answer … unless you believe in cover ups.

The picture used in this article comes courtesy of the BBC.

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