Some paranormal phenomena are scary, and some are kind of cool. But space jelly is just kinda weird and disgusting, like getting slimed by a wraith in Ghostbusters. Space jelly, also known as star jelly or by its Welsh name, pwdre ser (which translates as “rot of the gods”), is a mysterious foul-smelling, viscous goop that is sometimes found in fields after meteor showers. It’s said to quickly vanish, which may explain why there doesn’t seem to be a reliable laboratory analysis of it to be found on the web. The most frequent appearances of space jelly seem to be in the British Isles, but there are also reports of gooey residue being found in Australia, India and North America. Nobody is sure exactly what it is, where it comes from, or what actually causes it. Some have suspected that it is the result of a fungus, or regurgitation from frogs or birds. Others think it actually is deposited by meteors, though no one has ever explained how the goop would survive the heat and friction of falling through the Earth’s atmosphere.
People have been talking about space jelly for centuries. John Dryden mentioned it in his 1678 play Oedipus:
And chaos is at hand.
Similarly, Sir Walter Scott, the James Patterson of early 19th century England, slips in a reference to space jelly in his 1825 novel, The Talisman.
Unfortunately, the scientific literature on space jelly is a lot less illuminating. In 1910, T. McKenny Hughes published a lengthy article in the journal Science, in which he traced the history of the phenomenon and obtained a sample of the goop of southwest Wales. Unfortunately, he didn’t do a chemical analysis of the stuff, but he did pass it along to a Cambridge University botanist. The latter concluded that that it was bacterial in origin, but Hughes wasn’t satisfied with that explanation:
An article from SFGate.com and various paranormal-oriented web sites also mention an occurrence in Philadelphia in 1950, in which police officers supposedly observed a blob of light-emitting star jelly, freshly emitted by a fallen meteor, crawling up a telephone pole before it vanished. Oddly, I haven’t been able to find any contemporary newspaper accounts of the bizarre incident, which is said to have been the inspiration for the 1958 sci-fi horror flick “The Blob.”
Last year, BBC Radio’s Scotland Outdoors program asked scientists to examine samples of space jelly. But they weren’t able to figure out what it was, either. Hans Sluiman, an algae expert at the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh, told the program that the goop didn’t seem to be of plant or animal origin. Andy Taylor, a scientist at the Macaulay Land Use Research Institute in Aberdeen, found fungus filaments in the slime, but noted that they appeared to be growing in the stuff rather than creating it. He ran a DNA test on the sample, but because of contamination, the results were inconclusive.
So what do you think? Have any of you out there actually found a sample of this gelatinous enigma? What do you think space jelly is? We’d love to hear your theories.
“Paranatural: Blood Rain and Star Jelly” premieres Monday June 7 at 9P et/pt.