“Star jelly” (also called astromyxin, astral jelly, pwdr sêr, star rot, or star shot) is a gelatinous substance sometimes found on grass or even on branches of trees. According to folklore, it is deposited on the earth during meteor showers. Star jelly is described as a translucent or grayish-white gelatin that tends to evaporate shortly after having “fallen.” Explanations have ranged from the material's being the remains of frogs, toads, or worms, to the byproducts of cyanobacteria, to the paranormal. Reports of the substance date back to the 14th century and have continued to the present day.
There have been reports of pwdr sêr (also pwdre sêr or pydredd sêr, Welsh for 'star-rot') for centuries. John of Gaddesden (1280–1361), for example, mentions stella terrae (Latin for 'star of the earth' or 'earth-star') in his medical writings, describing it as "a certain mucilaginous substance lying upon the earth" and suggesting that it might be used to treat abscesses. A fourteenth-century Latin medical glossary has an entry for uligo, described as "a certain fatty substance emitted from the earth, that is commonly called 'a star which has fallen'". Similarly, an English-Latin dictionary from around 1440 has an entry for 'sterre slyme' with the Latin equivalent given as assub (a rendering of Arabic ash-shuhub, also used in medieval Latin as a term for a 'falling' or 'shooting' star).
The Oxford English Dictionary lists a large number of other names for the substance, with references dating back to the circa-1440 English-Latin dictionary entry mentioned above: star-fallen, star-falling, star-jelly, star-shot, star-slime, star-slough, star-slubber, and star-slutch.
A long article in the paranormal magazine Fate declared Star Jelly to be of extraterrestrial origin, calling it "cellular organic matter" which exists as "prestellar molecular clouds" which float through space.
In The Book of British Amphibians and Reptiles (page 138) author M Smith, explains that Star Jelly is most likely formed from the glands in the oviducts of frogs and toads. Birds and mammals will eat the animals but not the oviducts which, when they come into contact with moisture, swell and distort leaving a vast pile of jelly like substance sometimes also referred to as Otter Jelly.
In 1910, T. Mckenny Hughes ruminated in Nature as to why meteors were associated with star jelly by poets and ancient writers, and observed that the jelly seemed to "grow out from among the roots of grass".
Scientific analysis and theories
- Thomas Pennant in the 18th century believed the material to be "something vomited up by birds or animals".
- Nostoc, a type of fresh water blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) forms spherical colonies made of filaments of cells in a gelatinous sheath. When on the ground, it is ordinarily not seen; but after rainfall it swells up into a conspicuous jellylike mass which is sometimes called star-jelly.
- The Massachusetts Department of Environment Quality Engineering examined the "star fall" which dropped on North Reading, but the only results were that the material was "non-toxic".
- One scientific speculation has pointed towards frog spawn which has been vomited up by amphibian-eating creatures (notably European Polecats), though no frog spawn has ever approached the size of some reported cases of star jelly. The German terms Sternenrotz (star snot) and Meteorgallerte (meteorite jelly) are known to refer to more or less digested frog spawn vomited by predators (Schlüpmann 2007). This is quite easy to identify by its smell and found in winter and early spring near frog spawning sites.
- Scientists commissioned by the National Geographic Society have carried out tests on samples found in the United States, but have failed to find any DNA in the material.
- Slime molds are possible causes, appearing suddenly, exhibiting a very gelatinous appearance at first and later changing to a dust-like form which is dispersed by rain and wind. The colours range from a striking pure white as in Enteridium lycoperdon, to pink as in Lycogala epidendrum, to purple, bright yellow, orange, and brown.
- On November 11, 1846, a luminous object estimated at 4 feet in diameter fell at Lowville, New York, leaving behind a heap of foul-smelling luminous jelly that disappeared quickly, according to Scientific American
- In 1950, four Philadelphia, Pennsylvania policemen reported the discovery of "a domed disk of quivering jelly, 6 feet in diameter, one foot thick at the center and an inch or two near the edge." When they tried to pick it up, it dissolved into an "odorless, sticky scum." This incident inspired the movie The Blob.
- On August 11, 1979, Mrs. Sybil Christian of Frisco, Texas reported the discovery of several purple blobs of goo on her front yard following a Perseid meteor shower. A follow up investigation by reporters and an assistant director of the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History discovered a battery reprocessing plant outside of town where caustic soda was used to clean impurities from the lead in the batteries, resulting in a purplish compound as a byproduct. The report was greeted with some scepticism, however, as the compounds at the reprocessing plant were solid, whereas the blobs on Mrs. Christian's lawn were gelatinous. Others, however, have pointed out that Mrs. Christian had tried to clear them off her lawn with a garden hose.
- In December, 1983, grayish-white, oily gelatin fell on North Reading, Massachusetts. Thomas Grinley reported finding it on his lawn, on the streets and sidewalks, and dripping from gas station pumps.
- On several dates in 1994, "gelatinous rain" fell on Oakville, Washington. The story was featured in a 1995 episode of Unsolved Mysteries. A National Geographic video called "Mystery Goo Rain" advances a conspiracy theory using an interview with microbiologist Mike McDowell, who says he tested the substance and speculated that it was "a matrix" containing Pseudomonas fluorescens and Enterobacter cloacae that could cause illness to those who touched it. In the video, McDowell claims that "the sample went missing" and when he asked the management what happened to it, he was told "Do not ask", leading him to believe "this material was manufactured by someone for some purpose" and that the town "was chosen as a test site".
- In 1997, a similar substance fell in the Everett, Washington area.
- On the evening of November 3, 1996, a meteor was reported flashing across the sky of Kempton, Australia, just outside of Hobart. The next morning, white translucent slime was reportedly discovered on the lawns and sidewalks of the town.
- Blue balls of jelly rained down on a man's garden in Dorset in January 2012. Upon further analysis these proved to be sodium polyacrylate granules, a kind of superabsorbent polymer with a variety of common (including agricultural) uses. They were most likely already present on the ground in their dehydrated state, and had gone un-noticed until they soaked up water from the hail shower and consequently grew in size.
- Several deposits were discovered at the Ham Wall nature reserve in England in February 2013. It has been suggested that these are unfertilised frog spawn but - contrary to some reports - the substance has yet to be identified.
- As he whose quicker eye doth trace
- A false star shot to a mark'd place
- Do's run apace,
- And, thinking it to catch,
- A jelly up do snatch
- That the Starres eat...that those falling Starres, as some call them, which are found on the earth in the form of a trembling gelly, are their excrement.
- When I had taken up what I supposed a fallen star I found I had been cozened with a jelly.
- Swift as the shooting star, that gilds the night
- With rapid transient Blaze, she runs, she flies;
- Sudden she stops nor longer can endure
- The painful course, but drooping sinks away,
- And like that falling Meteor, there she lyes
- A jelly cold on earth.
- "Seek a fallen star," said the hermit, "and thou shalt only light on some foul jelly, which, in shooting through the horizon, has assumed for a moment an appearance of splendour."
An unidentifiable substance that falls to earth during a meteor-type event forms the background to The Colour Out Of Space, a 1927 short story by the American horror and science fiction author, H. P. Lovecraft.
Some observers have made a connection between Star Jelly and the movie The Blob, in which a gelatinous monster falls from space. The Blob which was released in 1958 was supposedly based on the Philadelphia reports from 1950 and specifically a report in the Philadelphia Inquirer called "Flying 'Saucer' Just Dissolves" where four police officers encountered UFO debris that was described as evaporating with a purple glow leaving nothing.
In the film Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1978 film), the alien spores that fell to Earth in a rain shower formed blobs of jelly that grew into flowers that produced the seed pods.
In the book The Isle of Blood by Rick Yancey, Star Jelly (referred to as Pwdre Ser in the book) is the saliva of a monster called 'Magnificum' that falls to earth along with blood and shredded human remains, sometimes weaved into a nest or bowl of sorts, known as a 'nidus'. Anyone who comes in contact with the Pwdre Ser becomes 'infected', and will slowly decline in health until they are literally a living corpse.
- Samuel Griswold Goodrich (1848). Tales about the sun, moon, and stars. p. 259. "A gelatinous substance is occasionally found on the grass, and even sometimes on the branches of trees, the origin of which the modern learned do not ascribe either to stars or to meteors; but which they are divided as to regarding either as an animal or vegetable production. The vegetablists name it tremella nostoch and say that it is a fungous plant, quick of growth, and of short duration, but of which even the seed has been discovered ; but the animalists, though differing from each other in subordinate respects, agree in affirming it to be the altered remains of dead frogs. "The quantity of jelly," says one of these, "produced from one single frog, is almost beyond belief; even to five or six times its bulk when in a natural state;" that is, when the frog is in a living state ..."
- Thomas McKenny Hughes (1910). "Pwdre Ser". Nature 83: 105–106. Retrieved 2010-02-17.
- "Natural History of the Toad". Philosophical magazine 64: 90. 1824. Retrieved 2010-02-17. "The substance known by the name of star-jelly or star-shot (Tremella Nostoc), found on marshy ground, is the decomposed bodies of toads or frogs, but more particularly the latter, the writer having frequently found the exuviae of the reptile connected with it, and he has also seen the lacerated body of a frog lying on the margin of a lake one day, and the next seen it converted into this substance, the atmosphere at the time being very humid and the weather wet, which appear to be necessary adjuncts to the formation of star-jelly. It may be objected that this substance is sometimes found in places inaccessible to frogs and toads, as the tops of thatched barns, hay-ricks. This is easily accounted for; these reptiles are the food of various birds of prey, and by them carried to those situations to be devoured at their leisure; and if scared in the act, the lacerated 'toad or frog is left behind, and if the state of the weather and air is favourable to this mode of decomposition, star-jelly is formed. If the weather is hot and dry, they are converted into a hard leathery substance. Frogs in particular are rarely decomposed by the usual process of animal putrefaction."
- Mark Pilkington (2005-01-13). "The blobs". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2010-02-17. "Since at least the early 18th century, the most common earthbound explanation for the mystery goo has been that it is something vomited up by birds or animals; the Welsh naturalist Thomas Pennant, writing later that century, considered this the answer. Currently popular is the idea that the grey gloop is frog spawn barfed up by amphibian-eating creatures, though no frogs' eggs have ever actually been identified within it, and most finds are a good deal larger than your average frog. A recent refinement of the concept is that if a frog is swallowed prior to ovulation, its regurgitated egg duct - which swells dramatically when wet ..."
- Reid, Melanie (18 September 2009). "Nature 1, Science 0 as finest minds fail to explain star jelly". Times Online (London). Retrieved 2009-09-19. "Alternative theories for the origins of “star jelly”, a strange mucous substance found on the Scottish hills in the autumn abound. Could it be the remnants of a meteor shower, regurgitated frogspawn, fungus - or, less romantically, the gel from disposable nappies? Is it evidence of extraterrestrial life, or perhaps the fallout from top-secret attempts by scientists to manipulate the weather? ..."
- "stella terre, que est quedam mucillago jacens super terram, prohibet apostemata calida in principio", from John of Gaddesden, "Rosa Medicinae" or "Rosa Anglica", Venice edition of 1502, folio 28. There is another reference to stella terrae, as a component in a medical recipe, on folio 49 of the same work.
- Fort, C. "The Book of the Damned" pp41-50, 1919
- Gordon, p. 467
- "Uligo, i. grassities quedam que scatet a terra que vulgariter dicitur stella que cecidit", from Mowat, J. L. G. "Sinonoma Bartholomei", Oxford, 1882, p. 43
- Mayhew, A. L. (ed.). The Promptorium Parvulorum: The First English-Latin Dictionary. Early English Text Society. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Company. p. 435. OCLC 2642049.
- See the Oxford English Dictionary, under the words nostoc, star, and star-shot.
- Ángel M. Nieves-Rivera. "About the So-Called ‘UFO Rings’ and Fungi". Sociedad de Escépticos de P.R. Retrieved 2010-05-09.
- Richard Marshall (1983). Mysteries of the unexplained. ISBN 978-0-89577-146-9. "The two main contenders for the leading role in the star jelly mystery are Nostoc and plasmodium. Nostoc is one of the blue-green algae and grows in ..."
- Scientific American 2:79, November 28, 1846, see "Star Jelly". Subversiveelement. Archived from the original on Sep 27, 2011.
- "Star Jelly". Subversiveelement. Archived from the original on Sep 27, 2011.
- Frank Edwards (1964). Strange World. p. 344. ISBN 0-8065-0978-3.
- The site was located (near 26th Street and Vare Avenue) within a half mile (800 m) of the Philadelphia Gas Works, leading to the possibility that it was some type of industrial discharge.
- "UFO Round Up". The San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2010-02-23. "Gelatinous meteors, also known as the Pwdre Ser phenomenon, are rare but not unknown. On September 26, 1950, Patrolmen John Collins and Joseph Keenan saw one of these things land at the corner of Vare Boulevard and 26th Street in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The light-emitting blob was also observed by Sgt. Joseph Cook and Patrolman James Cooper and was seen oozing its way up a telephone pole. This incident became the basis for Steve McQueen's 1958 horror movie, "The Blob.""
- "Did Mrs. Sybil Christian of Frisco, Texas, find blobs from space on her lawn?". The Straight Dope. Retrieved 2010-02-18.
- "Mystery Goo Rain". See also "Alien Ooze".
- Buckland, Lucy (22 October 2011). "The real-life Blob: Is mysterious translucent jelly found in Cumbrian Fells from outer space?". Daily Mail. Retrieved 4 March 2012.
- Nelson, Sara C (20 January 2012). "Mystery Blue Balls Of Jelly Rain From Dorset Skies Into Steve Hornsby's Garden". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 4 March 2012.
- "Blue balls theories rage after Dorset storm mystery". BBC News. 30 January 2012. Retrieved 4 March 2012.
- Steven Morris. "Blue balls mystery solved by scientists | Science". The Guardian. Retrieved 2013-02-20.
- "RSPB Ham Wall 'slime' baffles experts".
- "BBC News - RSPB Ham Wall slime may be frog spawn, vet suggests". BBC News. 19 February 2013. Retrieved 2013-02-20.
- "§5. His Historic Tragedies; "Bussy DAmbois; The Revenge". II. Chapman, Marston, Dekker. Vol. 6. The Drama to 1642, Part Two. The Cambridge History of English and American Literature: An Encyclopedia in Eighteen Volumes. 190721". Bartleby.com. Retrieved 2013-02-20.
- Belcher, Hilary and Erica Swale. "Catch a Falling Star." Folklore, Vol. 95, No. 2 (1984): 210-220.
- Charles Fort, The Book of the Damned (1919), 41-50.
- Gordon, Benjamin Lee, Medieval and Renaissance medicine, Philosophical Library, 1959
- Nieves-Rivera, Angel M. 2003. The Fellowship of the Rings - UFO rings versus fairy rings. Skeptical Inquirer. Vol. 27, No. 6, 50-54.
- Schlüpmann, Martin (2007): Laichballen auf Baumstümpfen, Baumstubben etc. Arbeitskreis Amphibien und Reptilien Nordrhein-Westfalen. Version of 2007-MAR-07. Retrieved 2007-JUL-13. Article in German; contains photo of slightly digested specimen.