Monday, October 01, 2012

Starstrikes: Calling Cards from the Cosmos?

By Scott Corrales
(c) 2000

The story has been told in every language and in every single possible context from simple history to science-fiction: how in the summer of 1908 a strange object -- sometimes meteorite, sometimes a cometary fragment, sometimes an alien spaceship -- crashed into, or vaporized over, a remote area in the Siberian wilderness known as Tunguska. Haunting photos of the event's aftereffects are burned into our consciousness and have even graced the covers of rock and roll albums: thousands of trees pointing away from the disaster like so many carefully laid out matchsticks. Stories of the still-unexplained Siberian devastation are equally gripping, and when the first Soviet expeditions made their way to the area decades later, they were startled to find that the local Tungus tribespeople had attributed the event to a surprise visit by the fire-god Adgy.

However, any small comfort offered by both time and distance vanishes when we examine the more immediate crashes on our own continent.

On August 13, 1930 a strange explosion very similar to the one at Tunguska took place at Rio Curaca on a jungle riverbank on the border between Perú and Brazil. Word of the event was brought back to civilization by Catholic missionaries doing the Lord's work in Amazonia and printed in the Vatican's own L'Osservatore Romano. According to the eyewitnesses, their attention was drawn to the phenomenon by a high-pitched whistling sound in the early morning hours. The sun acquired a blood-red cast that frightened the natives and made the missionaries wonder if the time of reckoning might be at hand.The article in L'Osservatore Romano makes reference to the highly unusual fact that a rain of fine ash "left a white layer on the jungle leaves" prior to the impact.

Five years later, a second devastating explosion would occur in South America's northern reaches, specifically at Rupununi in British Guyana. According to an article featured in The Sky magazine in September 1939, the Guyanan incident occurred under cover of darkness in the month of December 1935. Researcher Serge Korff had visited the remote area only a few months after the event and noted that the area affected by the cosmic one-shot could have been much wider than the one in Tunguska decades earlier: he managed to interview a local miner who had gone to bed early on that fateful evening and was brusquely wakened by the explosion and the sound of his crockery being thrown about in the kitchen. The miner claimed to have visited the impact area and guessed that it roughly measured one hundred twenty square kilometers. Giant rainforest trees had fallen down pointing away from the impact "as if they'd been pushed."

It was not until 1937 that William Holden, a researcher with the American Museum of Natural History, was able to visit the area and climb to the top of a local mountain range: he reported being able to see a devastated area measuring several miles in diameter whose trees had been sheared off some 20 feet from their bases. Holden also supported the belief that some sort of cosmic impact had been responsible for the event. Subsequent researchers found that the area had been covered over by the exuberant rainforest in a matter of years.

Researchers agreed that common factors in the Brazilian and Guyanan cases were the ear-splitting sound produced by the object and the fact that both events occurred during annual meteor showers --the Perseids and Geminids--in their respective years and are identifiable with the penetration of Earth's atmosphere by a small meteor. But even so, there was the niggling suspicion, as with the Tunguska event, that something more than stray cosmic junk may have been involved.

The South American landmass appears to have avoided further insults until only recently, when the vast, thinly populated expanses of Brazil were wounded from above once more.

On October 9, 1999 an enormous sonic boom rent the air above the Amazonian logging camp/village of Sao Félix do Xingu on a clear afternoon, spreading terror among the lumberjacks and the Kaiapós natives who occupy the area. A scintillating object roared over the city, leaving a wake of black smoke qualified by the onlookers as "similar to that of a rocket". The smoke trail extended for some 18 miles into the nearby mountains as the object disappeared from view.

The inevitable detonation followed seconds later. Witness Gildemar de Souza noted that "it was a colossal explosion, like a bomb, that made the ground shake." Had anyone in the logging camp been of an occultist bent, they might have reasonably assumed that Nostradamus' Great King of Terror had arrived a few months late.

Local radio station "Rede BAND" took it upon itself to organize a search party to find out what had really fallen into the mountains. Members of the radio station's team were almost completely convinced that a meteor of some sort had fallen in the vicinity and discouraged any talk about alien vehicle. This choice, however laudable, did nothing to discourage speculation among the locals that a stricken spaceship had plowed into their region. Believers in the alien hypothesis bolstered their belief with the fact that no distress calls had been received concerning any downed Brazilian aircraft.

Rede BAND's expedition used a small aircraft to get as close to the site of events as possible, and then employed a small boat to reach the Xingu's headwaters. Friendly Kaiapó tribesmen led them to the spot in the jungle where the crash occurred and the tropical vegetation still smoldered a full two weeks after the impact: giant hardwoods had been uprooted and burned and the jungle floor had been furrowed. No traces of machinery or meteoritic rock were in evidence; stranger still was an odd area where the trees pointed away from impact's probable epicenter. All of this puzzled Rómulo Angélica, the Rede BAND expedition's geologist, who was at a loss to explain how despite the fact that the area looked like a meteor-stricken landscape should look, the lack of a "culprit" was very distressing to the scientists -- as was a peculiar odor which did not resemble any smell that the expedition members were able to immediately identify.

Although they did not say so, perhaps some of the expedition members were recalling the still-unexplained Divinolandia impact six years earlier.

In the spring of 1994, farmer Trajano Martins and his wife, residents of the municipality of Divinolandia deep in the state of Sao Paulo, were startled to hear a sound similar to that of a low- flying helicopter followed by the sound of an explosion. Running out of his house to see what had occurred, he was startled to see a large boulder on a nearby hill completely enveloped in a cloud of white smoke.

Fortunately for the Martins, a surveyor had been shooting the landscape a few miles away and was able to witness an object "reflecting the sun's light" fall out of the sky directly toward the location indicated by the farmer. This corroboration prompted the University of Sao Paulo to send out a team to investigate the event and recover the meteorite. However, their efforts were in vain: not even the smallest fragment of rock was found. The research team's verdict was that if a meteor had been involved, it must have buried itself into the ground.

But this explanation did not suffice for members of the Grupo Ufologico de Guarujá, who contacted Professor Francisco Donizetti and asked him to look further into the matter. Glad to oblige, the scholar visited Divinolandia and was impressed by the way in which the large boulder had been shattered by whatever external force had been brought to bear against it. He corroborated the lack of any meteoritic fragments and ventured the suggestion that the event may have been a "shock wave of an unknown nature", remarking that a similarly strange event had taken place in the late '70s at Aguas da Prata, where a strange celestial object had fallen on a coffee plantation, setting it on fire and creating a hole well over fifty feet (16 m) deep.

Many people in South America, particularly those given to reading books on the spiritism of Allan Kardec and esoterica in general, had been keenly aware of the arrival of the year 1999 and the dreadful cataclysmic portents for the "seventh month" of said year forecast by Michel de Nostradamus in the 16th century concerning a "king of terror" that would appear in the sky. When nothing happened, trepidation increased rather than abated, since the cosmic intruder was probably delayed for reasons not even Nostradamus could have explained on a good night. The terrifying omen would appear like the thief in the night described by the Apostle Paul.

On Tuesday, January 25, 2000, the noontime routine of the Argentinean village of Sachayoj in the Andean foothills was disrupted by Nostradamus' late arrival: an object described as a glowing ball of flame roared across the daylight skies, rending the air with dull, deafening roar and frightening the locals into prayer. What happened shortly afterward was a repetition of the Brazilian incidents--a loud explosion was heard throughout the Santiago del Estero region as energy was released from the impact point. The ground shook, although not as powerfully as it might in this earthquake-prone part of the Americas. It was all over in a matter of minutes, and the townspeople's gratitude at being spared turned into normal human inquisitiveness: had it really been a bolide, or was it a crashed UFO similar to the one which had allegedly fallen in 1995 near the Argentinean town of Metán, some 200 miles to the north? UFOs had already been reported earlier in January over the military facilities at Puerto Belgrano, so anything was possible at this juncture.
It took a few days for teams of specialists from all over Argentina to gather their instruments and report to Santiago del Estero, the largest city closest to Sachayoj. The military and their scientific advisors proceeded to comb the area for signs of the alien object--whether natural or artificial--but were soon hampered by the local geography of thick forests covering yawning canyons and gullies -- uninhabited and mostly unexplored, but filled with a variety of subtropical animals on both banks of the Salado River Finding the object would involve the daunting prospect of doing it all on foot, aided by the seasoned backwoodsmen who inhabited the region.

Town commissioner Olga Bertolotti told journalists that a farm worker at an estancia (ranch) known as Fabril Chaquena had witnessed the object's descent and that the local police was reading the required expedition based on the man's indication. Bertolotti informed the Intervoz de Córdoba newspaper that "with the arrival of the year 2000 and apocalyptic beliefs, townspeople are concerned about the strange object that fell from the sky and are following the events closely." The Commissioner also added that her greatest concern was the awareness that the object had fallen from space and was therefore an unknown quantity. It is not entirely unreasonable to surmise the Bertolotti was aware of her region's propensity toward abnormal activity: not only had something odd fallen near Metán a few years ago, but the area was also one of the country's ufological hot spots. The spectacular Trancas Case (in which a farmhouse was besieged by six UFOs which deployed "heat rays" against it) had taken place not too far away, and the city of Salta and its extensive history of unusual celestial events was a nearby regional capital.

Reporters also took an interest in some of the eyewitness accounts brought to their attention, such as the testimony of school janitor Ramon Agustín, who explained that the event had filled him with "considerable panic and fear" given the sheer size and rapid descent of the mystery object, whose loud, thundering noise caused domestic animals to run amok. "I looked at it and felt paralyzed, I didn't know what to do. After the event, I ran away and stayed with my family," he told the press.

A full week since the mystery object burned a path across the skies of northern Argentina, the authorities determined that the villages of Tintina, Otumpa, Sachayoj and the marches of the Gran Chaco were the likeliest to hold the answer to the mystery. Journalists had discovered that the area's inhabitants--normally taciturn farmers--had become quite talkative about this intrusion into the sedate lifestyle. The owner of one business establishment was even able to pinpoint the location of the alleged crash site basing himself on the descriptions given by his clientele. Another local told reporters of fellow residents who had hired themselves out as guides to the growing number of technicians and officials engaged in searching for the object in the vegetation-covered canyonlands of the area.

As the search expanded to cover other possible crash locations the office of the comisario (sheriff) in the town of Quimilí rejected suggestions that an aircraft may have been involved, adding that the eyewitnesses' reports seemed to agree with the collision having occurred at a place known as Campo del Cielo --Heaven's Field--where a massive meteorite shower appears to have occurred millennia ago (an area similar to Mexico's Zone of Silence, which would appear to exert a certain attraction over inbound celestial objects)

Much in the same way as with the Xingú crash of 1999, the private expeditions seemed to have a higher profile and better luck than the official ones. A radio station (Radio Mocovi) and a television station (Charata Cable) hired a small plane to fly their respective crews over the possible impact site. According to radio broadcaster Juan Carlos Barros " [the area covered] is a
forested area and no anomaly could be observed which might have been caused by the possible fall of an object. It is an area of great size, and if that's where it fell, it would take a great deal of effort to reach the area and search it."

The Santiago del Estero meteorite/bolide/UFO story faded from the paper after a few weeks after experts and local guides alike threw in the metaphorical towel. As in the Divinolandia case in Brazil, the object had behaved like the Cheshire Cat--but this time not even its smile remained.

Paulina González was a highly intelligent young woman from the town of Villa Cardel, Veracruz -- not far from Jalapa, the state capital. She had entered into the service of the author's family in Mexico City and quickly became an inseparable member of the family, playing the roles of housekeeper and companion with equal ease. Her qualities as a storyteller were unparalleled, particularly concerning the smallest details of farm life in rural Mexico.

Perhaps one of her most memorable accounts was the story of the day "the world almost came to an end" had it not been--she was convinced--through the intercession of the Virgin of Guadalupe and a supporting cast of lesser-known saints.

It was noon in Villa Cardel and she was returning home from school for the midday meal when she noticed people screaming and pointing to the heavens as a "white ball of fire" bore down on the town. Shouts of "the world is ending" rang from people's throats, but the bolide never struck the continued on its path out to sea.

Paulina retold the story a number of times, but it would not be until many years later that I would come upon a similar account highlighting the state of Veracruz's proclivity toward these phenomena in John Keel's Operation Trojan Horse: residents of the city of Veracruz on the Gulf of Mexico were wakened by the a loud rumbling sound in the early morning hours of March 27, 1968. One witness to this terrifying event remarked that the source of light and its attendant noise made her feel cool at first and then cold, as night was turned into a frightening semblance of a daytime that was still many hours away. The light intensified and the ground shook as if in resonance. Again, before the world ended on that occasion, the "bolide" appeared to rise again and vanish. Keel notes that corroboration for the event was made by the crew of a Mexican warship and an oil tanker some twenty-five miles away from Veracruz. These distant onlookers were able to describe it as "two or three objects in the center of a bright ball of fire."

But we would be mistaken to limit these bizarre near-misses (if they in fact are) to the shores of the Gulf of Mexico. Little over a year after the still-unexplained incident over Veracruz, a colossal bolide appeared in the early morning skies over the northern Mexican desert. February 8, 1969 could have been a date every bit as memorable as Tunguska--written in letters of fire--as residents of Ceballos, Durango woke up to the blinding light of a fiery sphere that headed straight for their town, illuminating every feature of the rocky desert and causing understandable feelings of dread. The rumbling sound of the object filled the streets of Ceballos as the townspeople came out to see what could well be their last day on earth.

But unlike the Veracruz objects, this bolide stayed on course and was not deviated by any unnatural force. It hit the ground near the village of Pueblito de Allende--scant miles from Ceballos--and its shock wave fanned out almost immediately, causing a deafening clap of sound.

The Allende Meteorite is a matter of public record, but what is less known is that the Zone of Silence, this arbitrary patch of desert at the location where the states of Durango, Coahuila and Chihuahua meet, is constantly peppered by smaller stones mysteriously attracted to the region from outer space. These skyfalls have added to the Zone's reputation as an enchanted region. Similar "meteorite attractors" exist in other locations, such as the aforementioned "Campo del Cielo" in Argentina.

Living, as we do, in an age obsessed with the possible obliteration of our civilization due to meteorite impacts, interest in the subject is high and has spawned a number of motion pictures and book projects. But we needn't go as far as northern Asia to find some amazing stories: on the 10th of August, 1972, North America almost had its very own Tunguska as a massive meteor, having an estimated weight of two million pounds, burned its way into Earth's atmosphere leaving a wake of sonic booms over the state of Utah. Closing in at nine miles a second, the space rock seemed ready to slam against our planet until it rebounded against the denser air of the lower atmosphere and gently returned back into space. Astronomers estimated that the object's trajectory was leading it toward ground zero in southern Canada, slamming into the province of Alberta with a force equivalent to a 400-kiloton nuclear bomb.

One gets the impression that, like a cat, Earth seems to be running out of lives...