Why meteor fragments totalling just one gram that were recovered near Revelstoke in 1965 will factor into international news this week exploring the possibility that evidence of extra-terrestrial life has been discovered.
Skim too fast and you might miss it.
It’s at the bottom of the front page, just to the right of the story entitled Popular Revelstokians Move to Kamloops, just below the story, Figure Skating Club Being Reorganized.
The story in the April 1, 1965 issue of the Revelstoke Review is headlined simply, Meteor!
It’s written in earnest, despite the April Fool’s Day publication date:
Windows rattled and doors shook last night as residents wondered about all the commotion.
One woman, rushing to the door to see what was up as the rumblings continued, felt the door knob rattle in her hands.
Those who looked outside saw brilliant flashes of light all over the sky.
The thunder-like bangs lasted fully 10 minutes.
It was not long before radio and television stations reported showers of meteors from all parts of British Columbia, sections of Alberta, Washington and Idaho.
One particularly large piece is thought to have dropped just west of Chase and another near Dawson Creek. Search commenced in both areas this morning.
Coast meteorologists say it was the largest shower of meteors since 1913
The Revelstoke-based search starts
A week later, the Review reports that observatory director Dr. John Galt and astronomer Dr. E. P. Argyle of the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory near Penticton were in Revelstoke, looking for remnants of the “fireball that lit up the skies Wednesday night of last week.”
Scientists were still on the hunt in early June, when UBC physics doctoral student David Small, then 36, reminded Revelstoke residents of a $100 reward for fragments from the Mar. 31 meteor shower.
Small joked with a Review reporter, noting that some enterprising but ethically-challenged Revelstokians had proffered up pieces of furnace slag in an attempt to claim the reward.
NOTABLE QUOTE: “I just looked at some beautiful pieces of furnace slag this morning,” ~UBC physics post-grad student David Small was in Revelstoke hunting for meteorite fragments from a Mar. 31, 1965 strike. Revelstoke Review, June 3, 1965
The next story, in the June 24, 1965 issue of the Review, notes the hunt continued. Searchers conducted extensive aerial photographic mapping around Revelstoke, which was then studied by a team that included members from UBC, the University of Alberta, the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory and the Geological Survey of Canada.
Dr. L. A. Bayrock, a geologist and then research director of the Alberta Research Council, told the Revelstoke Review that, “The next step is to go to the area and look for the meteorite, or fragments of it.”
From there, the newspaper seems to have lost interest in the hunt for fragments of space rock that crashed to earth in the bush near Revelstoke.
Revelstoke Museum & Archives curator Cathy English says she’s not aware of what came of the search. She refers questions to local amateur astronomer Larry Pawlitsky. He agrees that the circumstances around the meteorite’s discovery are not well known. Everyone who witnessed it remembers the light show in the night sky on Mar. 31. He’d heard the fragments were found up the north end of the Seymour Arm on Shuswap Lake.
The meteorite is discovered
The fragments of the meteor were discovered 64 kilometres northwest of Revelstoke about two weeks after it fell. The discovery is noted in the Nov. 1965 issue of The Meteorical Bulletin, a Moscow, USSR publication of the The Permanent Commission on Meteorites of the International Union of Geological Sciences.
Prof. R.E. Folinsbee notes the success of the search headed by Galt, Argyle and Bayrock. The meteors streaked over “a very desolate range of glaciated mountains and spruce forest,” Folinsbee writes.
The initial search was unsuccessful until “two guides and trappers living ten kilometres south of the fall area in the course of their spring trapping operations for beaver, observed two impact areas on the ice of a small lake, and another two in the snow of the neighbouring forest.”
The longitude and latitude coordinates provided in Folinsbee’s report are about 20 kilometres north, north-east of the settlement of Seymour Arm. A Google Maps search marks a spot next to a logging road, near a Hydro right of way. Some very small, nameless lakes are nearby.
The team had uncovered two fragments when the report was issued in July of 1965, and the search continued as of the time of the report.
NASA astrobiologist Richard Hoover has published a controversial article in the Journal of Cosmology, entitled Fossils of Cyanobacteria in CI1 Carbonaceous Meteorites.
The article claims to have found microscopic bacteria fossils inside a very rare type of meteorite, known as CI1 carbonaceous meteorites.
PHOTO: The long, stringy item in the centre of the microscopic image is interpreted by Dr. Hoover to be a fossilized morphotype of cyanobacterium. In other words, he says it is an alien fossil similar to living bacteria on Earth.
Of the tens of thousands of meteorites discovered by humans, only nine (including ‘Revelstoke’) were CI1 carbonaceous meteorites.
Hoover split open some of the meteorites and used micro-imaging techniques to explore them. He concludes the fossils he found inside were, “indigenous to these meteors and are similar to trichomic cyanobacteria and other trichomic prokaryotes such as filamentous sulfur bacteria.”
The report says the “implications are that life is everywhere, and that life on Earth may have come from other planets.” Cue the mainstream media interest over the weekend.
Given the controversial nature of the report’s assertions, the Journal of Cosmology has invited 100 experts to comment on the paper this week, and has also issued a call for comment from a wider pool of 5,000 scientists. Judging from the attention it has received already, it seems likely the report and reactions to it will generate more stories this week.
The report is not without its detractors. Back in 1996, NASA scientists made a similar claim about another meteorite, but the report was heavily criticized, ending in a stalemate that fell short of conclusive evidence of extra-terrestrial life.
Over this past weekend, critics expressed skepticism and outright disdain for the paper, and its publisher, the Journal of Cosmology.
Commentators have noted many behind the journal and the papers it has published have credentials that are recognized and respected within the mainstream scientific community. But they have also been critical of some of its unconventional quirks, such as an editorial policy that sometimes leans closer to that of a science fiction magazine than a dead-sober scientific journal.
Many writers who encounter the Journal’s website for the first time (like me) have to note its odd, dated look. Even though the open-source, online, alternative journal was founded in 2009, their website looks old, reminiscent of a late-’90s Stargate SG-1 fanpage.
The Journal of Cosmology issued a media release in February, announcing it was going out of business, alluding to a quasi-conspiracy against it led by mainstream space science interests.
Other detractors note that Dr. Hoover made similar claims in a 2007 paper.
The Revelstoke meteorite was not one tested by Hoover in his report, and he notes similar biological testing has not been done on the Revelstoke meteorite, likely because it was so small compared to other examples. It is still unknown if new testing of the ‘Revelstoke’ meteorite could be a key to unlock the secret of extra-terrestrial life, or if it is just a fleck of space rock that made a flash, a splash and left Revelstokians with a good story to tell.
Aaron Orlando is the editor of the Revelstoke Times Review. Do you have more information to add to this story, especially relating to the history of the Revelstoke meteorite? Contact Aaron at 250-837-4667 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.