Friday, July 31, 2015

A Burning Sky: Recalling the Revelstoke Fireball

© Wally Lee Parker
Reprint from the August, 2015, issue of the Clayton/Deer Park Historical Society's "Mortarboard."

                First of all, let me disclose that when it comes to flying saucers, your editor has always wanted to believe.  Unfortunately, having spent the majority of my working life dealing with people, I’ve learned that humans often embellish things just a little bit beyond the merely factual.  So even though I do want to believe that unidentified flying objects are extraterrestrial craft, I’ll need to see some credible scientific evidence first — meaning eyewitness accounts alone are never enough.
                That said, most anyone with any number of years behind them has seen at least a few unusual things in the sky.  For example, late one afternoon in the mid-1950s, we were out in the west field of the family’s Williams Valley farm turning hay bales to speed their drying (they were baled just a little too green) when we noticed an intense pinpoint of green light falling out of the northeastern sky.  The light fell for what seemed five or six seconds, then disappeared behind the timberline — that being perhaps a half mile away.  As for what it looked like, imagine a green aerial flare being dropped from an aircraft — though what kind of muddled aviator might drop something like that into a tinder dry woods is beyond me.
                It’s interesting to note that objects dubbed “green fireballs” were very popular among UFO devotees in the early 1950s.  And to also note — when reading about the fantastic maneuvers these objects engaged in — that estimating the distance, size, and speed of airborne UFOs without fixed references is notoriously difficult if not impossible even for trained observers.  As for my sighting, all I can honestly report was a descending point of intense green light.  If what I saw was one of those notorious “green fireballs,” I wasn’t particularly impressed by it.  But if it were a tailless meteor falling several dozen or more miles away, that would have been impressive.
                The above is preamble to the fact that about ten years later I saw something incredibly impressive — and initially unidentified.
                The event occurred on the evening of March 31st, 1965, at exactly 47 minutes after 9 — Pacific Standard Time.  That, at least, is the time published in the November, 1965, bulletin of “The Permanent Commission on Meteorites of the International Union of Geological Science.”  And with a name like that, I’m going to assume their data is accurate.
                A lady friend and I were parked and “talking” in a sparsely wooded rural area not far from Spokane when the entire landscape — both inside and outside the vehicle — turned a vivid orange.  And I do mean the entire landscape, including the mountains in the distance.  Looking around, the obvious source of the light was what appeared to be a single boiling orange fireball just a short distance above the horizon to the north.  If I had to hazard a guess as to size, I’d say at least as big as a clenched fist at arm’s length.  Within a few seconds — perhaps five — it had faded away.
                My only hint as to distance was that I heard absolutely nothing I could associate with the explosion — then, or in the following minutes.  What I didn’t realize at the time was that our area was only seeing the final dazzling flashes of what would prove to be one of the 20th century’s legendary meteor falls.
                As for other local reports, the April 1st, 1965, edition of the Ellensburg, Washington, Daily Record quoted the pilot of a DC-3 flying in the Ephrata area as saying the event lit the cockpit of his aircraft “as bright as day.”  So at least I wasn’t having a singular hallucination — even though my date only recalled seeing a “confusing” flash of light.
                Eyewitness reports of this event were received from as far north as Peace River, Alberta, and Dawson Creek, British Columbia.  As far east as Edmonton, Alberta.  And as far south as Lewiston, Idaho.  The final official report stated the explosion, or explosions, I saw occurred at an altitude of approximately 18 miles, some 38 miles northwest of Revelstoke, British Columbia — which is to say, about 270 miles north of Spokane.
                Over the next several years a fairly good understanding of what actually happened that evening was pieced together.  The evidence suggested that the source of the explosions was a roughly 10,000 pound chondrite meteor.  (Chondrites being rocky meteors composed of smaller, non-metallic pebbles, the bulk of which usually “burn up” before impact.)  Subsequent analysis indicates that the meteor, leaving a glowing 60 plus mile long trail, detonated in a blue-white fireball that then broke into at least two smaller chunks which subsequently exploded as red fireballs — one or both of those smaller explosions likely what witnesses in our area saw.
                Data extracted from instruments measuring atmospheric pressure changes were used to estimate the force released by the entire series of explosions.  Said calculations suggested that an amount of energy equivalent to at least 20,000 tons of TNT — or a small nuclear device — had been liberated in just a few seconds.  And when something that large detonates over Canadian airspace, agencies from both sides of the border, both civilian and military, are interested in sifting through the details just to make sure there isn’t anything — shall we say — unnatural going on.
                Most of those directly under the series of blasts described the event as very bright and very loud.  In fact, the April Fool’s Day issue of the Revelstoke Times Review wrote, “windows rattled and doors shook” with “thunder-like bangs” that “lasted fully 10 minutes,” the above sounds preceded by “brilliant flashes of light all over the sky.”
                Only two small fragments of the object were recovered from the ground.  The rest of the physical evidence was collected directly from the air shortly after the event by United States Air Force jets fitted with special dust collecting filters — which, as chance would have it, were also very good at gathering radioactive airborne residuals from Russia’s ongoing series of aboveground nuclear tests.
                So — setting aside the conspiracy theories suggesting that the “Revelstoke Fireball” was actually a flying saucer’s anti-matter drive malfunctioning and then exploding — I’m pretty happy with having seen the last glow of this perfectly spectacular meteor.  Of course, if it had been an exploding flying saucer, that would have been pretty cool too.

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