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Space Science

Mysterious Peruvian Meteor Disease Solved 146

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the oh-great-its-only-poison dept.
Technician writes "The meteor that crashed in Peru caused a mystery illnesses. The cause of the illness has been found. The meteor was not toxic. The ground water it contacted contains arsenic. The resulting steam cloud is what caused the mystery illness. "The meteorite created the gases when the object's hot surface met an underground water supply tainted with arsenic, the scientists said." There is a very good photo of the impact crater in the article. The rim of the crater is lined with people for a size comparison."
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Mysterious Peruvian Meteor Disease Solved

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  • Aha (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 24, 2007 @09:09AM (#20727673)
    It's funny because it's poisonous.
    • It's funny because it's poisonous.

      The groundwater is poisonous. The meteorite was just a hot rock.
      • The meteorite was just a hot rock.

        TFA doesn't mention anything about the meteorite (or parts thereof) being found...
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by fbjon (692006)
          Yeah, I mean why don't they write about the meteorite instead of saying things like

          The meteorite's impact sent debris flying up to 820 feet (250 meters) away
          or

          The samples also had a significant amount of magnetic material "characteristic of meteorites," she said.
          or

          "It's a rocky fragment," Machare said, "and rocks that fall from the sky can only be meteorites."
          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by Hognoxious (631665)

            rocks that fall from the sky can only be meteorites
            O RLY? [trebuchet.com]
            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by Artifakt (700173)
              It was only about 120 years ago that scientists were claiming rocks didn't fall from the sky, period. This was still the consensus belief among actual, degreed, professional scientists well after the time of Isaac Newton, not something older natural philosophers or pseudo-scientists were necessarily claiming. In fact, for a while there, claiming a rock had fallen from the sky was a very good way for even an established scientist to find himself characterized as a crack-pot.
              I know we ha
              • It was only about 120 years ago that scientists were claiming rocks didn't fall from the sky, period

                I wasn't around then, but I find that hard to believe. Legends of fallen stars [wikipedia.org] aren't exactly uncommon, observations of "shooting stars" likewise.

                Also it was established in ancient times [wikipedia.org] that tortioises, which bear a cursory resemblance to rocks, do indeed fall from the sky with potentially tragic consequences.

                P.S. If we want to be pedantic, rocks that fall from the sky can be meteors too; the scientist didn

  • We never know what comes out of space :o)
  • by lucabrasi999 (585141) on Monday September 24, 2007 @09:13AM (#20727713) Journal

    Bah! That's what they want you to believe. I prefer to believe my own complex conspiracy theory involving secret government projects, space aliens, and duct tape.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      Noob. Any conspiracy theory has to involve black planes.
    • by morgan_greywolf (835522) on Monday September 24, 2007 @09:16AM (#20727751) Homepage Journal

      Bah! That's what they want you to believe. I prefer to believe my own complex conspiracy theory involving secret government projects, space aliens, and duct tape.
      Mine involves those, plus a copy of Catcher in the Rye, several men known by three names, a few guys wearing all black, some black helicopters, Area 51, and a can of cheeze whiz.

      I'm not sure what the cheese whiz is for.

      • by jonatha (204526)
        I'm not sure what the cheese whiz is for.

        Lubricant for the warp drive....

      • several men known by three names

        You mean Jan Michael Vincent and Casper Van Diem are involved? Uh, oh. Somebody better call Cher.

        • by cHiphead (17854)
          I'm calling Jean Claude Van-Damme, cuz I count that as 4 names. Or maybe Steven Segal. But not Chuck Norris, he's too busy telling the Iraqis that their country is getting better.
        • by scottv67 (731709)
          >>several men known by three names

          >You mean Jan Michael Vincent and Casper Van Diem are involved? Uh, oh. Somebody better call Cher.


          Would "The Dread Pirate Roberts" count as three names or four?
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Red Flayer (890720)

        I'm not sure what the cheese whiz is for.
        Interrogations. Just the sight of a can of cheez whiz in the hands of a skilled interrogator has caused many fine men to crumble.
      • by gstoddart (321705)

        I'm not sure what the cheese whiz is for.

        Sure ... that's what you want us to believe. ;-)
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by ashitaka (27544)
        I'm not sure what the cheese whiz is for.

        Has to do with the watermelon.

        I'll tell you later.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by AdamThor (995520)
      Zombies, people! Zombies!

      Be on the lookout for other stories from South America:
      - Cannibalism
      - Murder Spree
      - Violent Insanity
      - People missing
      - Further mystery disease
      - Riot / uprising
      - corpse mutilation

      Organize before they rise!
    • Mine is better. It has Knight Templars in it.
  • They make some great comments:

    "Imagine the magnitude of the impact," he said. "People were extremely scared. It was a psychological thing."

    No! Imagine that! People being scared -- a human behaviorial characteristic, was a psychological thing. Um, isn't psychology the study of human behavior? Yeah. Brilliant scientist.

    "It's a rocky fragment," Machare said, "and rocks that fall from the sky can only be meteorites."

    Really? Ya think?

  • by pieaholicx (1148705) on Monday September 24, 2007 @09:14AM (#20727723) Homepage
    If it weren't for those meddling scientists!
  • Yea, arsenic poisoning, that's a good one.
  • Makes sense (Score:3, Informative)

    by PlatyPaul (690601) on Monday September 24, 2007 @09:16AM (#20727739) Homepage Journal
    The symptoms [wikipedia.org] match.

    And, before anyone starts up with the whole "apple seed" thing - that's cyanide, not arsenic [snopes.com].
  • The whole world ooohs and ahhhs at your mysterious meteor and the local chamber of commerce is rubbing its hands together, thinking about how many tourists will be dropping by to see the Terror From the Skies and then--oh, no, never mind. Sorry, folks, nothing to see here. We're just slobs and our place is a toxic shithole. Sorry about that. Just call us Newark south.

    • Re:How embarrassing! (Score:5, Informative)

      by PlatyPaul (690601) on Monday September 24, 2007 @09:27AM (#20727875) Homepage Journal
      Arsenic pollution doesn't have to be man-made, and groundwater-borne arsenic frequently isn't. Go check out the Wikipedia page on it [wikipedia.org], which is also summarized nicely here [wikipedia.org]. The external links are particularly enlightening, and you can check up on all those shiny statistics.
      • Aw, dude. Way to ruin my beautiful scenario with facts. Jeez.
      • Or from the Nat. Geographic article: "Numerous arsenic deposits have been found in the subsoils of southern Peru, explained Modesto Montoya, a nuclear physicist who collaborated with the team. The naturally formed deposits contaminate local drinking water."
      • by obidobi (306713)
        Isn't arsenic a pretty common biproduct of mining? Don't know if this location have or is a place for mining activities but could be.
        • by LWATCDR (28044)
          Arsenic is a pretty common byproduct of mining because it is often found in the ore!

          Arsenic is all natural and part of the environment. It just happens to be one of the toxic, nasty, all natural bits. In this case it is naturally occuring in the ground water. Hope they have some good artificial, man made, filtering systems around if they use that water.

    • by ScentCone (795499) on Monday September 24, 2007 @09:31AM (#20727915)
      Sorry, folks, nothing to see here. We're just slobs and our place is a toxic shithole. Sorry about that. Just call us Newark south.

      Yeah, those poor, uneducated Peruvians and their backwards, self-polluting, toxic-drinking-water ways. Imagine dumping your arsenic right there where you live. Well, you WILL have to imagine, because if you RTF, you'll note that the area has naturally occuring arsenic deposits. It's in the ground water, and it's always been in the ground water. Nice troll, though!
      • ...because if you RTF...
        Rich Text Format?
        Ready To Fly?
        Real Time Factor?
        Rescue Task Force?

        Can't quite find the RTF that's a verb...
        • by ScentCone (795499)
          Can't quite find the RTF that's a verb...

          Well, you insensitive clod, if you'd RTF, you'd understand. The freakin' Space Meteor Arsenic has damaged my ability to conjugate verbs, and I won't be able to get rid of Space Meteor Arsenic Syndrome until I get a conjugal visit. I hope you feel good about yourself.
          • Still don't know what verb RTF could be. Unless you mean something like RTFA, in which case we have an entirely different situation.
            • by ScentCone (795499)
              Still don't know what verb RTF could be. Unless you mean something like RTFA, in which case we have an entirely different situation.

              Dude. First one was a typo, second one was a joke. Really.
            • by @madeus (24818)

              Still don't know what verb RTF could be.
              If you were so slow you couldn't work out it was a typo, you should probably try visiting another website [disney.com], one that's less challenging.

              If you were able to work that out, but you just enjoy being a dick there are websites for people like you too [goatse.cz].
  • Pout (Score:3, Funny)

    by phoenixwade (997892) on Monday September 24, 2007 @09:18AM (#20727769)
    A mundane reason for the illnesses.

    I guess I'll go put my tin-foil hat away..... Oh! Wait! How about if I claim a government cover-up? Where are the men in black?
  • by jollyreaper (513215) on Monday September 24, 2007 @09:21AM (#20727795)
    I read on Pravda that the "meteor" was actually a downed US spy sat and it was done as a blue-on-blue false flag strike to be blamed on certain foreign powers as a prelude to starting a new war. The locals were suffering from radiation sickness from the plutonium core on the sat! And now you're saying there's a reasonable explanation? Feh. Pravda is my new Weekly World News, I just wish they'd pick up the Bat Boy features. I've been wondering what that little scamp is up to.
    • There was a small number of DU'ers who took this to heart. It was rather amusing.
    • by ivlianvs (911238)
      Pravda no more exists!! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pravda [wikipedia.org]
    • by Chris Burke (6130)
      Pravda is my new Weekly World News, I just wish they'd pick up the Bat Boy features. I've been wondering what that little scamp is up to.

      Duh. It's been ages since Weekly World News first broke his story. He's clearly grown into Batman.
      • Hmm, according to Wiki:

        According to Weekly World News, Bat Boy has a chaotic sense of morality. He has been said to steal cars but also to come to the aid of the needy. According to the mythos, the only person who cares about the chiropteran child is Dr. Ron Dillon, who discovered him in a West Virginia cave. At the time of capture, he was two feet tall and weighed nineteen pounds. By February 2001, he was 2' 6". In 2004, he was five feet tall and his weight was unknown.

        He sheds his wings every three years, and regenerates a new pair.[2]

        During the 1990s Bat Boy is rumored to have tried to escape society's gaze by enrolling in a small liberal arts college in upstate New York under the assumed name of Guy Fledermaus (German for bat). He purportedly graduated with an art degree from the college's "Music Program Zero".

        On 27 February 2001, he allegedly attacked a fifth-grader in an Orlando, Florida park. The girl was nearly ripped to shreds.[3] The next day, he endorsed presidential candidate Al Gore.[4]

        On 14 August 2003, he announced he was running in the California gubernatorial election.[5]

        In October 2005, it was revealed that a boy was saving his money for plastic surgery such that he would then resemble Bat Boy.[6]

        In October 2006, Bat Boy was captured on film riding on top of a New York City subway car. Bat Boy was said to be living in the Subway's tunnels during this time. This story was converted into a "documentary" video on the Weekly World News web site. [7]

  • Arsenic? (Score:2, Insightful)

    The ground water it contacted contains arsenic.

    Sounds like they have bigger things to worry about than silly meteors.
  • THE ALIENS HAVE ALREADY GOTTEN TO THE SCIENTISTS. NOW NO ONE IS LEFT. WHO CAN STOP THE UNSTOPPABLE? Already I am in my bunker, my dial up connection to the world furiously pounding bits to find the true evil. Where did these monstrousities come from? There, above the stars. Truly we must prepare. Guns are ready. The aliens menace will be destroyed.
    • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

      by Dr. Crash (237179)
      The arsenic-in-ground-water-converted-to-steam idea is a good one - EXCEPT
      that meteorites, when striking, are not hot. They are very, very cold; (
      a freshly-fallen meteorite is usually covered with frost); the
      glow of reentry is compression heating of the air in front of the meteorite,
      not the meteorite itself.

      So, in the absence of other evidence, I have to call "bull****" on a "steam
      cloud loaded with arsenic" explanation.

      - Dr. Crash
      • ... the first stories of Peruvian cannibalism, and I'm grabbing my shotgun and heading for the hills...

        What, again with the zombies?

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by samkass (174571)
        the glow of reentry is compression heating of the air in front of the meteorite, not the meteorite itself.

        Who said it was the meteorite itself that heated the ground water? Compression heating is perfectly capable of it.
      • The arsenic-in-ground-water-converted-to-steam idea is a good one - EXCEPT
        that meteorites, when striking, are not hot. They are very, very cold; (
        a freshly-fallen meteorite is usually covered with frost); the
        glow of reentry is compression heating of the air in front of the meteorite,
        not the meteorite itself.

        So, in the absence of other evidence, I have to call "bull****" on a "steam
        cloud loaded with arsenic" explanation.

        - Dr. Crash

        Actually, it is only sometimes that a freshly fallen meteorite has frost on it. Other meteorites are "burning hot to the touch" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meteorites [wikipedia.org]). Considering the fact that the majority of meteorites burn up before they reach the Earth's surface it seems obvious that some of them would be hot when they hit. The temperature will vary according to the composition of the meteorite, some will cool because of the loss of heat as more volatile components near the surface of the object vap


  • All the witnesses have been silenced. The meteor has been taken away. The smoking man pauses, job well done. Arsenic. They'll believe that, before they believe the TRUTH.
  • whew... its just the local arsenic tainted water supply...
  • I totally want a meteor crater in my back yard. I never get cool stuff like that.
  • Who finds it ironic that, given that the illness was caused by poisonous vapours from the crater, the publicity photo consists of people standing right next to it?
  • Meteor != Meteorite (Score:4, Informative)

    by DrMindWarp (663427) on Monday September 24, 2007 @10:21AM (#20728489)
    Meteor's don't impact anything but meteorites do. Perhaps confusingly they leave a meteor crater.
    • by ashitaka (27544)
      You know, that's absolutely right. We're always told that anything that hits the ground is a meteorite. So shouldn't a meteorite leave a meteorite crater?

      Now just try and get everyone to change their terminology.

      That would be like trying the make the U.S. go fully metric.
  • by SuperBanana (662181) on Monday September 24, 2007 @10:23AM (#20728529)
    So how does a meteor, which is usually cold if not frozen, generate a steam cloud large enough to make a whole lot people sick? Numerous websites cover this if you google "meteor hot or cold." Even NASA's website says that the meteor's outer surface usually heats up and ablates, leaving the core still very cold.

    There's an alternate theory going around- a Peruvian SCUD missile gone awry [badastronomy.com], and the fuel (Inhibited Fuming Red Nitric Acid) is what made people sick.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by weeboo0104 (644849)
      The amount of heat energy released from a large mass impacting another large mass can be pretty significant.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by oni (41625)
      Some of the kinetic energy from any impact is converted to heat. Even if the object is made of ice, it's still going to do that. In this case, it released enough KE to boil a bit of water and make the first few people who rushed to the site ill.

      But you're right, the meteorite wasn't a glowing hot ball that took days to cool, and boiled water the whole time. This was a quick, flash effect that was over instantly.
    • by krbvroc1 (725200)
      How about I fire an ice cube into your forehead at high velocity and you tell me if there is any heat generated?
    • Presumably a lot of water would have splashed all over the place.... wouldn't it be possible that the evaporation of all that water in the presumably warm daytime sun could cause a longer-term, if less concentrated, vapor of arsenic?

      or would the arsenic tend not to become gaseous? I don't know much about the specific evaporation modes of it...
  • ... this, but I found it amusing that that they're talking to all these geologists, and then the guy named "Ishitsuka" is an astronomer.

    • by ashitaka (27544)
      Almost a joke in Japanese.

      Ishi = rock
      Tsuka(u) = To use
      Tsuka(i) = A user of...

      Ishi-tsuka(i) = User of rocks. You would think a good name for a geologist.

      Then again, the infantile amongst us will misread as Ishitsuika = "I crap watermelons"

  • by PhreakOfTime (588141) on Monday September 24, 2007 @10:53AM (#20728997) Homepage

    Wouldnt actually producing the meteorite be proof? Isnt it a little premature to jump the gun with the assumption that the meteorite that was steaming hot causing all this groundwater steam to be produced? When no actual meteorite has been produced. So far, all that has been produced it whats called a 3-inch metallic fragment that CONTAINS iron.

    Aside from the fact that meteorites are actually cold when they hit the ground, it just doesnt seem to be a very valid conclusion without any actual evidence to support it. This would fail a 7-th grade science class project on the scientific method. At least it would when I was in 7th grade... is this what passes now?

    So to simplify, these are the verifiable facts;
    1) There is a big hole in the ground.
    2) Something made a big hole in the ground.
    2) There were reports of the water appearing to 'boil' in the hole shortly after it was formed.
    3) There is arsenic contained in some nearby groundwater aquifers.
    4) Water boils when an object that is immersed in it contains ENOUGH specific heat to cause the water to reach its boiling point
    5) No meteorite has been shown to exist physically (a 3-inch fragment that simply contains the element iron is not proof)
    6) No peer reveiw has been done on the results or fragment claimed by the ONE man from the peruvian govt.

    In short, coming to a conclusion of "It was a meteorite" is simply not able to be substantiated by the available evidence. IF numbers 5, and 6 are shown to be non-negative over more time, then and only then could it even be POSSIBLE that this was a meteorite.

    Can anyone provide more supporting evidence that fits with the meteorite theory?

    • by stoicfaux (466273)

      You need to quote your source(s), because your information doesn't match the article and thus severely undermines your argument.

      5) No meteorite has been shown to exist physically (a 3-inch fragment that simply contains the element iron is not proof)
      6) No peer reveiw has been done on the results or fragment claimed by the ONE man from the peruvian govt.
      In short, coming to a conclusion of "It was a meteorite" is simply not able to be substantiated by the available evidence.

      From the article:
      "Peruv

      • by PhreakOfTime (588141) on Monday September 24, 2007 @12:10PM (#20730091) Homepage

        Fair enough. My sources are as follows. However, not a single one of them is from this article. And since they obviously contradict it, it would seem that there is NOT a unanimous agreement as to what happened.

        The object, Woodman said, was metallic in nature and created a crater 42 feet wide and 15 feet deep. The impact also registered a 1.5-magnitude tremor on the institute's seismic equipment. [nwsource.com]Ronald Woodman is the director of the Peruvian Geophysical Institute.

        Mid sized meteorites are not hot. [wired.com] I'll say it again: Mid sized meteorites are not hot. First, meteoroids are naturally cold. They've been out in the frigid blackness of space for many billions of years -- these rocks are cold down to their very center. Second, because of its size there's a good chance that this meteorite was originally part of a larger meteor that broke up anywhere between 60 and 30km above the surface. If that is the case, the larger meteor's cold interior would become the smaller meteor's cold exterior. Since hardly any surface heating takes place lower than about 30km, this cold surface doesn't warm up by any appreciable amount. Some meteorites, located soon after landing, have actually been reported to have frost on the surface due to their still cold interior.

        There 'preliminary' analysis quoted in this article is contradicted by the following; In addition, Woodman stated that astrophysicist José Ishitsuka of Peru's Geophysics Institute, had collected samples of the meteorite and had confirmed that it contained a high degree of iron. It was reported that Ishitsuka retrieved a 3-inch magnetic fragment of the meteorite and has based his conclusion after studying its properties. [skywatch-media.com]

        What I am attempting to say, is that there is NOT any 'proof' as to what this was, at least not yet. And to simply accept the explination that it was a meteor without the evidence to support it, is not acceptable in any scientific attempt at explaining what happened here. In time, it may be 'proven' to be a meteorite. But that time is not now. It is merely 'speculation' that is a meteorite. Lots of things that fall from space can have a 'high degree of iron', some of them are manmade.

        • by stoicfaux (466273)

          The cold meteorite reference only proves that the energy to boil the water didn't come from the cold interior of the meteorite. Well, duh. =)

          A lot of energy is still released by the impact (it takes energy to move all that dirt around for a start.) Is it possible that the water boiled away due to the energy released at impact? What about Boyle's law? Could the water have been heated as the ground was compressed by the strike, and/or the boiling point lowered by decompression as the explosion pushed t

        • by stoicfaux (466273)

          What I am attempting to say, is that there is NOT any 'proof' as to what this was, at least not yet. And to simply accept the explination that it was a meteor without the evidence to support it, is not acceptable in any scientific attempt at explaining what happened here. In time, it may be 'proven' to be a meteorite. But that time is not now. It is merely 'speculation' that is a meteorite. Lots of things that fall from space can have a 'high degree of iron', some of them are manmade.

          I forgot to address

      • by pla (258480)
        You need to quote your source(s), because your information doesn't match the article and thus severely undermines your argument.

        Er, no. The burden of proof here rests on the "scientists" making the claims of arsnic-and-meteorites. Science just works that way.


        "Peruvian scientists seemed to unanimously agree that it was a meteorite that had struck their territory"

        First, "meteor"s hit ground; "meteorite"s get vaporized in the atmosphere. Second, "Seemed to unanimously agree"? What does that mean? Y
    • by jmichaelg (148257)
      The Minor Planet Mailing List [yahoo.com] members scan the sky every clear night looking for new asteroids and comets. An area of special interest are the near earth objects which could potentially hit us. The consensus of the group is that it wasn't a meteorite that caused the crater. The reasoning is that there were no reports of a pre-impact sonic boom (people under a meteorite's path will typically hear one) and the shape of the crater is wrong. Meteorite impacts form circular craters with uplifted circumferences.
  • You guys are so dense. Arsenic this and UFO that. Pffft! Just look at the pictrue in that article. Doesn't it remind of another very VERY famous picture of similar nature? Goddammit! Do you want me to actually explain it? On /.? Really? The link under that pic says "Enlarge this" How is that for a hint?

    HE IS BACK!!!
  • by dtjohnson (102237) on Monday September 24, 2007 @11:36AM (#20729647)
    Excerpts:

    "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."


    How can the scientist unanimously agree (unuusual in itself) if the samples were just arriving?

    "Preliminary analysis by Macedo's institute revealed no metal fragments, indicating a rare rock meteorite."


    I don't think there has ever been a meteorite in the past with 'metal fragments' if, by that term, they mean an unoxidized form of a metal. Many meterites contain iron, a 'metal,' but it is has always been present in an oxidized form. Maybe they mean that there was a complete absence of metals, oxidized or unoxidized, which would not be at all unusual (and certainly not 'rare). However, in that case, the next part of the article makes no sense:

    "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." "

    All in all, the article provides no useful information other than to say that arsenic is present in the groundwater, the arsenic ions were somehow present in significant quantities in the steam clouds created by the meteorite impact, and people inhaled the steam clouds and thereby somehow absorbed a significant amount of arsenic.
    • by SEE (7681)
      Many meterites contain iron, a 'metal,' but it is has always been present in an oxidized form.

      Um, no.

      Stony-iron meteorites -- for example, mesosiderites [wikipedia.org] -- are about 1% of discovered meteorites, and are stone with metallic inclusions. The metal in them is an alloy of iron and nickel. A major characteristic of nickel-iron alloys is that they don't readily oxidize; industrial iron-and-nickel alloys are called "stainless steel" for that reason. A second common characteristic of iron and nickel, both pure an
  • arsenic foil hat?
  • I wonder how many people took the mystery illness as some sign from a deity? Maybe they needed to sacrifice some more animals or offer up more herbs?

    What about the condensation that someone claims is the crying Virgin Mary?

    Just imagine that hundreds of years ago, this meteor may have started a religion. And even today scientific ignorance by society at large reinforces these myths.
  • Our new arsenic-spraying meteoric overlords?
  • David Letterman had "toxic steam" on his show years ago when he was still on NBC.

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