2009 Latvian meteorite hoax
The 2009 Latvian meteorite hoax was a publicity stunt
Publicity stunt
A publicity stunt is a planned event designed to attract the public's attention to the event's organizers or their cause. Publicity stunts can be professionally organized or set up by amateurs...

 in which Swedish
Sweden , officially the Kingdom of Sweden , is a Nordic country on the Scandinavian Peninsula in Northern Europe. Sweden borders with Norway and Finland and is connected to Denmark by a bridge-tunnel across the Öresund....

-based telecommunications company Tele2
Tele2 AB is a major European telecommunications operator, with about 34 million customers in 11 countries. It serves as a fixed-line telephone operator, cable television provider, mobile phone operator and Internet service provider.- Overview :...

 staged an apparent meteorite
A meteorite is a natural object originating in outer space that survives impact with the Earth's surface. Meteorites can be big or small. Most meteorites derive from small astronomical objects called meteoroids, but they are also sometimes produced by impacts of asteroids...

 landing which was later revealed to be fake.

The "Meteorite" incident

The drama began at around 17:30 local time in Latvia
Latvia , officially the Republic of Latvia , is a country in the Baltic region of Northern Europe. It is bordered to the north by Estonia , to the south by Lithuania , to the east by the Russian Federation , to the southeast by Belarus and shares maritime borders to the west with Sweden...

 (15:30 GMT) on Sunday 25 October 2009. Student Ancis Steinbergs reported that a fiery meteor
METEOR is a metric for the evaluation of machine translation output. The metric is based on the harmonic mean of unigram precision and recall, with recall weighted higher than precision...

-like object had fallen in a field outside the town of Mazsalaca
Mazsalaca is a town in Mazsalaca municipality, Vidzeme, Latvia with 2412 inhabitants.The area includes the largest known Stone Age burial site in Northern Europe and was first settled ca. 5000 BC...

 near the Estonia
Estonia , officially the Republic of Estonia , is a state in the Baltic region of Northern Europe. It is bordered to the north by the Gulf of Finland, to the west by the Baltic Sea, to the south by Latvia , and to the east by Lake Peipsi and the Russian Federation . Across the Baltic Sea lies...

n border. Reports described the object lighting up the evening sky with a blazing trail
and hitting the ground with a loud crash leaving a burning crater
Impact crater
In the broadest sense, the term impact crater can be applied to any depression, natural or manmade, resulting from the high velocity impact of a projectile with a larger body...

 claimed to be around 20 m (65 ft) wide and from 3 m (10 ft)
up to 10 m (33 ft) deep. Fire crews, police and military units attended the site, which was cordoned off while tests were carried out to check radiation levels. The crater quickly attracted scientific and media interest amid widespread speculation about the origin of the object.
Steinbergs also filmed a video in which he and his two companions (his girlfriend and another student) approach the smoking crater and talk to each other excitedly when they apparently discover a burning mass at the bottom of the crater. The deliberately amateur style of the video, with shaky handheld camerawork and apparently spontaneous reactions from the students, has been compared to The Blair Witch Project
The Blair Witch Project
The Blair Witch Project is a 1999 American horror film pieced together from amateur footage. The film was produced by the Haxan Films production company. The film relates the story of three student filmmakers The Blair Witch Project is a 1999 American horror film pieced together from amateur...

. The video was published on YouTube
YouTube is a video-sharing website, created by three former PayPal employees in February 2005, on which users can upload, view and share videos....

 and news websites, attracting worldwide interest. Landowner Larisa Gerasimova reportedly charged visitors $2 each to view the crater.


The first scientist to visit the site, Uldis Nulle of the Latvian Environment, Geology and Meteorology Centre, said his initial impression was that a meteor impact could have caused the crater.
However, when he later examined the site in daylight he concluded it had been faked. Other scientists who inspected the crater confirmed that it was a hoax.
Andris Karpovics, a doctoral student of geology
Geology is the science comprising the study of solid Earth, the rocks of which it is composed, and the processes by which it evolves. Geology gives insight into the history of the Earth, as it provides the primary evidence for plate tectonics, the evolutionary history of life, and past climates...

 at the University of Latvia
University of Latvia
University of Latvia is a university located in Riga, Latvia. Being established in 1919, University of Latvia is the biggest university in the Baltic states.-History:...

, described the crater as "a simple, man-made hole with a substance poured in". He told journalists that the hole appeared to have been dug with shovels, and noted that thermite
Thermite is a pyrotechnic composition of a metal powder and a metal oxide that produces an exothermic oxidation-reduction reaction known as a thermite reaction. If aluminium is the reducing agent it is called an aluminothermic reaction...

 (a mixture of aluminium
Aluminium or aluminum is a silvery white member of the boron group of chemical elements. It has the symbol Al, and its atomic number is 13. It is not soluble in water under normal circumstances....

 and iron
Iron is a chemical element with the symbol Fe and atomic number 26. It is a metal in the first transition series. It is the most common element forming the planet Earth as a whole, forming much of Earth's outer and inner core. It is the fourth most common element in the Earth's crust...

, possibly with sulfur
Sulfur or sulphur is the chemical element with atomic number 16. In the periodic table it is represented by the symbol S. It is an abundant, multivalent non-metal. Under normal conditions, sulfur atoms form cyclic octatomic molecules with chemical formula S8. Elemental sulfur is a bright yellow...

 added), probably caused the increased temperatures observed in the crater. The crater was considerably smaller than initially reported: its actual diameter was around 9-10m (30–33 ft) and it was about 2-3m (6.5–10 ft) deep.
Dr Ilgonis Vilks, chairman of the scientific council at the University of Latvia’s Institute of Astronomy, declared “it’s a fake. It’s very disappointing, I was full of hope coming here, but I am certain it is not a meteorite.” Dr Vilks pointed out that there was green grass inside the artificial crater, with only a small area at the bottom burnt, and no ejected material or meteorite fragments were found on surrounding land. He described the supposed meteorite as "a ball of clay that was burning", and said that samples had been taken for university geologists to examine. He noted "There was a small blast heard by local people but this was not strong enough to create the crater". Nature conservationist Dainis Ozols also examined the scene and said he believed that someone had burned a pyrotechnic compound at the bottom of a man-made hole to create the illusion of a meteorite crater. Police warned of a possible criminal investigation into the hoax.

Caroline Smith, meteorite curator at the Natural History Museum
Natural History Museum
The Natural History Museum is one of three large museums on Exhibition Road, South Kensington, London, England . Its main frontage is on Cromwell Road...

 in London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

, stated that the pictures and video footage of the burning crater indicated that it was not a meteorite crater: meteorites are not aflame when they strike Earth. Smith also pointed out that there were no other reported sightings of any fireball in the sky, which would have been very clearly visible had the "meteorite" been real.
It is believed that a meteorite would have to be around a metre or more in diameter to result in a crater of that size. Sizeable meteorites are rare, since most objects which enter the Earth's atmosphere burn up before reaching the planet's surface. The most recent large meteorite known to have landed on Earth struck near Carancas in Peru
Carancas impact event
The Carancas impact event refers to the fall of the Carancas chondritic meteorite on September 15, 2007, near the village of Carancas in Peru, close to the Bolivian border and Lake Titicaca. The impact created a crater and scorched earth around its location...

 in 2007, leaving a crater around 15 m (50 ft) wide.

Tele2's admission and aftermath

On Tuesday 27 October 2009, Swedish-based telecommunications company Tele2 admitted to perpetrating the hoax as a publicity stunt
Publicity stunt
A publicity stunt is a planned event designed to attract the public's attention to the event's organizers or their cause. Publicity stunts can be professionally organized or set up by amateurs...

, and promised to reimburse the Latvian government for expenses incurred in responding to the incident.
Spokesperson Vita Sirica representing the Latvian branch of Tele2 said the stunt, which was organised in collaboration with media agency Inspired,

was intended "to draw attention away from Latvia's economic crisis and toward something else more interesting." She explained that 9 people had dug the hole and burned chemicals at the bottom to create the elaborate hoax. The meteorite hoax occurred the day before the recession-hit Latvian government approved an austerity
In economics, austerity is a policy of deficit-cutting, lower spending, and a reduction in the amount of benefits and public services provided. Austerity policies are often used by governments to reduce their deficit spending while sometimes coupled with increases in taxes to pay back creditors to...

 budget for 2010, and some officials were not impressed by the stunt. Interior Minister Linda Murniece accused Tele2 of a "cynical mockery", and announced that the Government would cancel its contract with Tele2, stating "The Interior Ministry doesn't want to do business with a firm that promotes itself at our expense".

Pernilla Oldmark, spokesperson for Tele2 in Stockholm
Stockholm is the capital and the largest city of Sweden and constitutes the most populated urban area in Scandinavia. Stockholm is the most populous city in Sweden, with a population of 851,155 in the municipality , 1.37 million in the urban area , and around 2.1 million in the metropolitan area...

, said the hoax had been carried out by the Latvian branch of Tele2 though authorised by its head office. She apologised for disruption and said the stunt had been intended to launch a forthcoming marketing campaign, claiming "The message will become clear as soon as the concept is launched". Latvian Advertising Association President Girts Ozols said that the situation was unprecedented but the hoax could be considered an ethics violation in professional advertising. Ozols expressed concern that the incident had caused the community to feel insecure, and commented "If such a prank is pulled, the culprits should not have allowed it to drag on for so long without revealing the truth." The Latvian Advertising Association's board is to review the matter.
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