Tunguska, June 30 1908: “…the sky split in two and fire appeared high and wide over the forest.”
One sad thing about the paranormal wonders of my youth is that under the bright light of adult analysis…many fade away like dew in the sun. The Bermuda Triangle, Ghosts, Nessie, UFOs and a host of others are little more than shadows when it comes to empirical evidence. There are exceptions though. Exactly 100 years ago today, there was a 5-30 megaton explosion in a remote spot in central Siberia.
Did that register? This isn’t a rumour, fuzzy film, or footprint in the mud. This is fact, in 1908 there was an explosion some 1000 times bigger than the Hiroshima bomb in the sky above uninhabited wilderness near the Tunguska River in remote Siberia. It knocked over some 80 million trees and would have registered as a 5.0 earthquake had the Richter Scale existed. Windows hundreds of miles away were broken, and people thrown to the ground. Had this event happened over a major metropolitan area, it would have been completely destroyed with a death toll in the hundreds of thousands.
This was a remote part of the world, and it took awhile for news to filter out. Europeans knew something had happened. The primitive seismographic stations of the time registered the event, and fluctuations in air pressure were noted as far away as England. Most noticeable was the fact that in Europe there was enough dust kicked into the high atmosphere to glow and make reading at night possible for some days; while astronomers noted that the skies were dimmed for some months by this dust. Some Russian newspapers carried reports of distant eyewitnesses to the explosion, but this was a hard to reach part of the world at the time so scientists soon lost interest. Then World War One and the Russian revolution made Russia virtually inaccessible to western science, and the mysterious event was basically forgotten.
It wasn’t until 1927, nearly two decades after the event, that a Russian scientific expedition led by Leonid Kulik reached the site. He made several expeditions over the next decade, mapping the downed trees and collecting eyewitness accounts. Kulik had the area photographed from the air, showing the downed trees formed a huge “butterfly” pattern radiating outwards from the centre, while the trees at the very centre remained standing, though sheared of their branches. While he theorized that the explosion was caused by a meteor event, he was frustrated by not being able to find either a crater nor fragments of the meteor.
Later expeditions discovered microscopic glass beads in the soil and downed/dead trees at the site that are consistent with asteroidal material. While the site is still being studied and there is much left to learn, today’s science thinks it has the basic answer. It’s conjectured that a stony asteroid 50-60m in diameter exploded in the air 4-6 miles above the ground, such explosion caused by the huge amount of heat generated when the extremely fast moving rock entered the Earth’s atmosphere. The Russians have even been able to replicate the butterfly pattern of fallen trees by experimenting with explosives sliding down wires amid matchstick forests, showing the original object struck earth at about a 30% angle.
We know now in fact that explosions in the atmosphere are surprisingly common, with small nuclear sized explosions occurring regularly. Usually in remote areas and high altitudes, so they go unnoticed. Mostly unnoticed, scientists are catching more of them with modern instruments and satellites. There was a 25 kiloton event over the Mediterranean Sea in 2002 fo example. Events the size of Tunguska probably only happen every few centuries on average. These events are all believed to be caused by chunks of rock and comet striking the Earth, and are considered impact events even though all that makes it to the ground is pulverized microscopic dust.
Of course with such a fascinating and not fully understood event, some folks have engaged in enthusiastic speculation. One theory is that it was an exploding alien spaceship…but nuclear powered anythings shouldn’t explode, and we find microscopic asteroid dust, not pulverized alien spaceship dust. A black hole can be ruled out because there was no exit event on the opposite side of the Earth. And so on. Currently all of the exotic possibilities are ruled out by serious inconsistencies between their conjecture and scientific understanding of the physics involved. There’s at least a bit more realistic scientific conjecture that Tunguska was some sort of volcanic or otherwise Earth generated event, but even that seems to mostly involve a lot of creative interpretation of eyewitness accounts. There’s even a rumour that Nikolaus Tesla was testing a “death ray” and that this device misfiring is what caused the Tunguska event. Right. It doesn’t seem particularly supported by contemporary evidence, the story doesn’t appear until long after the fact, and scientists (and me) are not impressed with Tesla’s death ray theories.
In any event, there is one clear thing that we can learn from the study of eyewitness accounts to the Tunguska event. If one should happen to see a bright light or column of light (as bright as the sun) slowly heading toward the ground…Take Cover! This advice provided as a public service by Doug’s Darkworld.
(The image above is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It is not being used for profit and is a heavily modified grey scale version of the original image. Credit and copyright: William K Hartman. It’s a hypothetical view of the Tunguska event from 400k (250 miles) away about 2 seconds before the explosion. The title quote is from the testimony of Testimony of S. Semenov, collected by the Kulik expeditions. For You-Tube footage that includes much original Kulik footage, and a lot of other nonsense, click here. For the University of Bologna’s Tunguska page, click here. They are at the centre of modern Tunguska research.)