- Credit: Photograph taken by the Leonid Kulik expedition
- Shattered trees from the now-famous "Tunguska Event"
testified to the force of the mysterious aerial explosion.
- (No one can dispute the occurrence, but how it happened
is the subject of continuing, and often heated, controversy. Despite the
best efforts of science, every acceptable "explanation" leaves
inescapable facts still shouting for attention.)
- The event began at about 7:15 on the morning of June
30, 1908 in a remote region of central Siberia near the Stony Tunguska
River. A blue-white fireball -- brighter than the Sun, some said -- raced
across the sky, then exploded with the force of a 10- to 15- megaton hydrogen
- The explosion felled some 60 million trees across an
area of 2000 square kilometers. Yet some trees near the blast center were
not burnt and a ring of burnt trees circling the epicenter was left standing.
The thunderous sounds were accompanied by a shock wave that knocked people
off their feet and broke windows hundreds of kilometers away.
- The explosion registered on seismic stations across Europe
and Asia, and as far away as Britain meteorologists registered fluctuations
in atmospheric pressure. The resulting pulse of air pressure circled the
Earth twice, and astronomers observed for several nights afterwards a glowing
red haze in the upper atmosphere, though they were not aware of the cause
at the time. Curiously, reports of an unusually bright night sky began
THE NIGHT BEFORE THE TUNGUSKA EVENT and continued for several days afterwards.
- For the next few weeks, reports suggest that the night
skies were aglow to such an extent that one could read in their light.
Both the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and the Mount Wilson Observatory
reported a decrease in atmospheric transparency persisting for several
- What, then, was experienced by the witnesses to the event:
Accounts gathered by the Russian mineralogist Leonid Kulik, in his 1930
expedition to the site of the explosion are consistent enough on many details
to be considered generally reliable. Here is an excerpt from the account
of resident Semen Semenov:
- "At breakfast time I was sitting by the house at
Vanavara factory facing North. [...] I suddenly saw that directly to the
North, over Onkoul's Tunguska road, the sky split in two and fire appeared
high and wide over the forest. The split in the sky grew larger, and the
entire Northern side was covered with fire. At that moment I became so
hot that I couldn't bear it, as if my shirt was on fire; from the northern
side, where the fire was, came strong heat.
- "I wanted to tear off my shirt and throw it down,
but then the sky shut closed, and a strong thump sounded, and I was thrown
a few yards. I lost my senses for a moment, but then my wife ran out and
led me to the house. After that such noise came, as if rocks were falling
or cannons were firing, the earth shook, and when I was on the ground,
I pressed my head down, fearing rocks would smash it. When the sky opened
up, hot wind raced between the houses, like from cannons, which left traces
in the ground like pathways, and it damaged some crops. Later we saw that
many windows were shattered."
- Kulik's expedition to the Tunguska explosion site was
inspired by his belief that a gigantic meteorite struck the area and that
the iron recovered could pay for the cost of the expedition. He received
support from the Soviet Academy of Sciences. The story is curiously similar
to Daniel Barringer's investigation of Meteor Crater in Arizona (Link:
http://www.thunderbolts.info/tpod/2006/arch06/060131crater.htm) -- except
that in Kulik's case neither a meteor nor an "impact crater"
could be found.
- However, a later investigation by mineralogist O. A.
Kirova recovered both magnetite globules and various forms of silicate
globules from samples obtained by Kiril Pavlovich Florensky's expedition
in 1958. Thousands of "tiny brilliant spheres," many fused together,
were found embedded like pellets in the earth and in the trees. Globules
of this sort are characteristic of the enigmatic particles produced when
meteoroids enter the atmosphere. (As we shall note in the submission to
follow, the study of such formations leaves many unanswered questions.)
The Tunguska globules occur over a fairly well-defined ellipse, with high
concentrations between 100 and 200 kilometers to the north-north-west of
the epicenter. Florensky suggested that this distribution might be explained
by fallout downwind of the high-altitude location of the final explosion.
- Most astronomers today envision the cause of the destruction
as either a small comet or asteroid exploding a few miles above the surface.
Some estimates point to an object 100 meters in diameter. According to
the calculations of Christopher Chyba of the NASA Goddard Space Flight
Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, only a stony meteorite would explode at
an altitude of 10 kilometers, the commonly agreed height of the Tunguska
blast. A comet of the assumed size would disintegrate much higher in the
atmosphere and cause less damage on the ground.
- Yet scientists are still arguing over certain unexplained
events and the fact that no samples of the "impacting" object
have ever been found. "If a group of experts cannot agree for almost
a hundred years, it's probably a third option," says Wolfgang Kundt,
an astrophysicist from the University of Bonn in Germany.
- Andrei Ol'Khovatov, an independent Russian physicist
who is intrigued by the Tunguska event, agrees that the impact theory leaves
too many unanswered questions. He points out, for example, that witnesses
reported strange weather and increased seismic activity in the area for
- The absence of a coherent explanation has inspired a
host of speculations. Some exotic theories suggest a miniature black hole
passing through the earth, or a miniature "bomb" of anti-matter.
Alternatively, either an exploding alien spacecraft, or an alien-produced
nuclear bomb has been offered. Some suggest that it was Tesla testing his
"death ray". As a light-hearted jest amid the carnival of speculations,
electrical theorists wonder if a "microscopic packet of neutronium"
(the fictional content of "neutron stars") might be the next
- NEXT: An explanation that works