What were the ‘Oakville blobs’? © William Defalco/YouTube

What were the ‘Oakville blobs’?

Asked by: Phoebe, Surrey

In August 1994, a resident of Oakville – a small city in Washington, US – reported translucent, gelatinous blobs, each about half the size of a rice grain, covering the ground. She said that they had rained down during the night, and believed that they may have caused her and her mother to subsequently develop flu-like symptoms.

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Over the next three weeks, there were another five reports in the local area of these strange blobs, with several people claiming that they had fallen ill as a result of contact with them. A microbiologist at the Washington State Department of Health found that the blobs contained two species of bacteria, although there was no suggestion that the bacteria were harmful.

Various theories have been suggested to explain this event, including, inevitably, classified military weapons testing, but there’s no evidence to support this. Nor is there evidence for the idea that jellyfish were shredded into pieces and swept up into the stratosphere by US Air Force bombing practice in the nearby Pacific.

It’s possible that the blobs didn’t fall from the sky at all, and simply appeared on the ground overnight. A similar substance called ‘star jelly’ has been mentioned in scientific reports and poetry since at least the 17th Century.

Substances that people have called star jelly have come from a variety of sources: amphibians, algae, slime moulds, and even crystals of sodium polyacrylate, sometimes used in agriculture. In 2012, sodium polyacrylate absorbed water from a storm to form gelatinous blobs in Bournemouth. Maybe the Oakville blobs were something similar.

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