No. 103: Jan-Feb 1996
August 13, 1930. Upper reaches of the Brazilian Amazon. In SF#102, we provided a short notice of a probable large bolide impact near Brazil's border with Peru. Apparently, this event resembled the much more famous 1908 Tunguska blast. More details have now been provided by M.E. Bailey et al in the Observatory, as based on old accounts that appeared in the British Daily Herald and the papal newspaper L'Osservatore Romano. Bailey et al write:
"The Daily Herald report [March 6, 1931] describes the fall of 'three great meteors...[which]...fired and depopulated hundreds of miles of jungle...The fires continued uninterrupted for some months, depopulating a large area.' Unfortunately, although the fall is said to have occurred around "8 o'clock in the morning" and to have been preceded by remarkable atmospheric disturbances (a 'blood-red' Sun, an ear-piercing 'whistling' sound, and the fall of fine ash which covered trees and vegetation with a blanket of white), few details are provided that constrain the time and place of the event. Nevertheless, the story refers to an article in the papal newspaper L'Osservatore Romano [March 1, 1931], apparently written by a Catholic missionary 'Father Fidello, of Aviano', and it is to this that we now turn.
Apparently, there were three bolides or fireballs seen. Father Fidello wrote:
"They landed in the centre of the forest with a triple shock similar to the rumble of thunder and the splash of lightning. There were three distinct explosions, each stronger than the other, causing earth tremors like those of an earthquake. A very light rain of ash continued to fall for a few hours and the sun remained veiled till midday. The explosions of the bodies were heard hundreds of kilometres away." (Ref.1)
M.E. Bailey singles out two puzzling features of the Brazilian event: (1) the fall of dust before the fireballs were observed; and (2) the lack of any mention of a blast wave. Further, the L'Osservatore Romano account does not say anything about extensive forest fires. (Ref. 1; see Ref. 2 for a synopsis.)
Circa December 11, 1935. British Guiana (now Guyana). Only five years after the Brazilian event, a large bolide apparently smashed into the jungle of Guyana. Buried in the library stacks, we found a mostly forgotten trio of reports on the 1935 event in a 1939 issue of The Sky, predecessor of Sky & Telescope. The articles suggest that the devastated area "may equal or exceed that of the great Siberian meteor of 1908." The bolide and apparent impact area were observed by a gold prospector, a Dr. G. Davidson. Davidson testified:
"About 10:30 in the morning we climbed to the top of the mountain in order to get a panorama of the surrounding country. We could see some areas that had been swept down by some great force, trees twisted off some 25 feet above the ground. We tried to enter one of these areas but the bush was in such a tangle that we had to give it up." (Ref. 3)
Photographs accompanying the articles confirm some of the devastation.
1995. Northeastern Brazil.
"Scientists in Brazil's northeastern state of Piaui are baffled by a crater that was punched into the tropical rain forest shortly after witnesses reported seeing a bright light streak across the sky. Researchers are uncertain whether the crater, 16 feet wide and 32 feet deep, was left by a meteorite or a piece of a comet. Physicist Paulo Frota of the University of Piaui believes it was caused by a block of ice from a comet because the surrounding vegetation is not burned and the crater's rim is not raised." (Ref. 4)
Ref. 1. Bailey, Mark E., et al; "The 1930 August 13 'Brazilian Tunguska' Event," Observatory, 115:250, 1995.
Ref. 2. Chown, Marcus; "Did Falling Comet Cause Rumble in the Jungle?" New Scientist, p. 12, November 11, 1995.
Ref. 3. Kroff, Serge A., et al; "Tornado or Meteor Crash?" The Sky, 3:8, September 1939.
Ref. 4. Anonymous; "Crater Mystery," Anchorage Daily News, October 1, 1995. Cr. J. & L. Nicholson via L. Farish.