Blue spheres from the sky? Hmm, not buying it. (UPDATE: Solved)

BBC News – Bournemouth resident mystified by ‘blue sphere shower’.

A man in Dorset has been left mystified after tiny blue spheres fell from the sky into his garden.

Steve Hornsby from Bournemouth said the 3cm diameter balls came raining down late on Thursday afternoon during a hail storm.

He found about a dozen of the balls in his garden. He said: “[They’re] difficult to pick up, I had to get a spoon and flick them into a jam jar.”

The Met Office said the jelly-like substance was “not meteorological”.

Tip: @abovetopsecret on Twitter

Here is the picture from the story. I’m not sure if this is an actual photo but let’s assume it resembles said blue spheres.

Here is a picture of hydrogel balls sold for your planting needs.

As advertised, these are described as “Crystal Soil” – a new type of green environmental material, rich in nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and others; can be used as long as 2 years; can absorb water up to 50-100times of its original weight, and after expansion it looks colorful and brilliant.

This is what this guy has in his garden. I am dubious about the “fell from the sky” claim.

UPDATE (30-Jan-2012): This story gets wide exposure in the U.K. and on mystery sites. Can’t explain why; I still hold that there is no evidence that the balls fell from the sky. They are almost certainly some man-made substance. The substance will be tested and we should find out the results to see if the hydrogel hypothesis is correct.

UPDATE (31-Jan-2012): The Guardian notes that the balls were only found on the ground, not on roofs. More evidence that they actually did not fall but were on the ground.

UPDATE: (4-Feb-2012): The Guardian reports that the substance is indeed sodium polyacrylate, an absorbent polymer.

Scientists at Bournemouth University have announced they have solved the puzzle. There is no need to prepare a welcome for extra-terrestrials. The blue balls are almost certainly sodium polyacrylate or waterlock, anabsorbent polymer used in nappies and by florists and gardeners as a way of keeping soil moist.

It is still not clear how the substance came to be in the garden but it may be that a heavy hailstorm that seemed to make the balls appear had quickly saturated the sodium polyacrylate crystals, and so caused them to rapidly increase in size.

As we originally supposed, that is indeed what this was and the odds that the substance “fell” was never confirmed. Gee, this story got milage…

  2 comments for “Blue spheres from the sky? Hmm, not buying it. (UPDATE: Solved)

  1. julianpenrod
    January 29, 2012 at 11:16 PM

    Notice the quality of “analysis” utilized. First, the suggestion that what felt in Dorset necessarily was Crystal Soil. The gardening aid is a porous polymer, which means it should not shatter like glass, yet the item depicted as coming from Mr. Hornsby’s soil shows the sign of broken glass. Also, Crystal Soil absorbs water for release over a long period of time, yet the item pictured shows no sign of fluid leaking out. Most telling, though, the “conclusion”, “This is what this guy has in his garden”, based only on a resemblance and no actual analysis of the items in question. If those who talked about chemtrails showed this little evidence, “debunkers” would condemn them! This is the nature of “debunker” analysis.

  2. February 4, 2012 at 11:26 AM

    Julian, have you used these polymers? I have used them in gardening, and the “sign of broken glass” you see in the picture (did you see the video as well? The glass illusion is enhanced by a still photo) is completely consistent with the characteristics of this polymer. That it shows no sign of fluid leaking out is also consistent–it traps the water, remember, allowing evaporation or adsorption, but not “leaking”. Both of your points actually support the notion of the polymers (which is, of course, a parsimonious explanation for the phenomenon). You are too eager to criticize “debunkers”, and have not thought through your own disputes.

    I will assume that your comment came before the final update, that did indeed analyze the actual substance.

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