Longtime Canal Flats resident, John Tawse, has been sitting on a remarkable secret for more than 30 years. In the late summer of 1979, Mr. Tawse, a former bar manager from Calgary, said he witnessed a meteor-like object sail over his cabin up Findley Creek. He was reminded of this event when he read a story in The Pioneer this summer about another explorer looking for a meteor strike from the same time frame in the Purcell Mountains.
The similarities between the two stories’ time frame and date are astonishing, but Mr. Tawse’s description of the event, and the fact that he was able to retrieve some material along the object’s flight path over a mountain behind his cabin, distinguish the two sightings significantly.
Mr. Tawse, who is now 72, said that he was enjoying a relaxing evening at his cabin when he saw a large object sail overhead. He said it was traveling in an arc from the southeast to the northwest, and had a greenish glow.
“The best way to describe it is the sparks that come off of fireworks when they shoot them off. That’s what it looked like. It looked like a really low shooting star,” he described.
Two of Mr. Tawse’s neighbours immediately radioed him and asked if he had seen it, to which he replied that he had.
The next day, a wilderness-savvy neighbour boy took Mr. Tawse, Mr. Tawse’s wife, and one of his neighbours to where he thought he saw it, which is where they made an unusual discovery. A long track of a freshly splattered tar-like substance was visible along a trajectory similar to that of the meteor Mr. Tawse said he witnessed the night before. The path of the splatter was approximately 75-80 feet in length and no more than two feet wide, Mr. Tawse said.
“It was like someone had thrown it onto the rocks. It wasn’t seeping out of the rock, that’s for sure. It had adhered to it, and was giving off a pungent, gas like odour.”
Mr. Tawse gathered up some of the strange material, and went back to work in Calgary for about a year before he was urged by his friends to have it analyzed. He gave some samples to a professor at the Kananaskis Centre for Environmental Research (part of the University of Calgary) and was shocked when a Dr. Hodgson called him up asking for more.
In a letter Mr. Tawse received from Dr. Hodgson, it confirms that the solid, asphaltic material contained sulphur, carbon and hydrogen, as well as porphyrin compounds that led the researchers to believe it was not from this world.
Porphyrins are a group of organic compounds, many naturally occurring. Chlorophyll and heme, the pigment in red blood cells, are both porphyrins.
What the researchers found was a presence of metal complexes of porphyrins, which occur in ancient sedimentary rocks of the earth, carbonaceous meteorites and possibly in lunar soils.
Further research, using fluorescence to help distinguish between the pigments of terrestrial and extraterrestrial porphyrins, indicated that the sample Mr. Tawse possessed resembled extraterrestrial pigments, but a great deal of further research would be needed to confirm this.
Dr. Hodgson took the sample to a number of conferences, including an international gathering of experts in Canberra, Australia, but eventually returned the material to Mr. Tawse citing an inability to continue the research past the initial work done a year earlier. Dr. Hodgson did keep a small sample in case the opportunity to do further testing arose, but that was the last Mr. Tawse heard from him.
In his own tests, Mr. Tawse has found that the material responds strangely to almost everything he has done to it, and remains a mystery in terms of confirming its origin. He said he believes that if there in fact was a meteor that deposited it on the rock face, it may have landed in behind the mountain where he found the splatters.
“All signs indicate that this is not from this galaxy,” he said. “Hypothetically, if a meteor was coming through space this material could have randomly synthesized on the surface of the meteor as it picked up particles, and as it entered the atmosphere this material broke loose and the core of the meteor crashed further into the mountains.
“I still believe there is a meteor over the top of the mountain, but I’m not a kid anymore so I can’t do the hike.”