The meteorite's crash also caused minor tremors, shaking locals physically and emotionally.
"They were in the epicenter of a small earthquake," Montoya, the nuclear physicist, said.
The resulting crater resembles a muddy pond measuring 42 feet (13 meters) wide and 10 feet (3 meters) deep.
Solving the Mystery
Even as meteorite samples arrived in Lima Thursday for testing, Peruvian scientists seemed to unanimously agree that it was a meteorite that had struck their territory.
"Based on the first-hand reports, the impact and the samples, this is a meteorite," Macedo, of INGEMMET, said.
Tests revealed no unusual radiation at the site, though its absence didn't rule out a meteorite crash.
"Everything has radioactivity, even underground rocks," Montoya said. "But nothing out of the ordinary was found."
Preliminary analysis by Macedo's institute revealed no metal fragments, indicating a rare rock meteorite. Metal stands up better to the heat created as objects enter Earth's atmosphere, which is why most meteorites are metallic.
(See related news photo: "Mysterious Space Object Crashes Into House" [January 5, 2007].)
The samples she reviewed had smooth, eroded edges, Macedo added.
"As the rock enters the atmosphere, it gets smoothed out," she said.
The samples also had a significant amount of magnetic material "characteristic of meteorites," she said.
"The samples stick to the magnet," Ishitsuka, the astronomer, confirmed. "That shows that there is iron present."
Water samples at the crater proved normal, but the color and composition of soil were "unusual" for the area, Macedo noted.
José Machare, a geoscience adviser at INGEMMET, said x-ray tests conducted on the samples earlier today further confirmed the object's celestial origins.
He said the group's findings put to rest earlier theories that the object was a piece of space junk or that the crater had formed by an underground explosion.
"It's a rocky fragment," Machare said, "and rocks that fall from the sky can only be meteorites."
Free Email News Updates
Sign up for our Inside National Geographic newsletter. Every two weeks we'll send you our top stories and pictures (see sample).
SOURCES AND RELATED WEB SITES