The Tunguska Event

1486235_origOn the morning of June 30, 1908, a fireball, that has been estimated to have been up to 30 million degrees Fahrenheit in the center, was seen roaring across the sky. At 7:17 A.M. in Russia, the flying object exploded above the Earth creating shock waves that registered 5.0 on the Richter scale and an air blast that was so strong that it sent waves across the globe, twice. It was reported that there was not one single explosion but a series of explosions that occurred which could be heard 745 miles away. Once the explosions were over, dust clouds rose up miles into the atmosphere. The sun reflected off of the clouds brightening the sky, so much so that there were reports in Asia that people could read outside at midnight with ease.

Russian mineralogist, Leonid Kulik, was the first to explore the site but he did not complete this task until 1927, 19 years after the fireball flew across the sky. While he did attempt earlier outings, the remoteness of the area affected his progress and the harsh weather in Siberia, prevented him from doing so. Upon arrival, in what today is Krasnoyarsk Krai, Russia near the Podkamennaya Tunguska River, the scene was destruction on a mass scale. A thorough inspection of the area revealed that over 800 square miles were completely destroyed with 80 million trees that had all fallen in a strange, circular pattern. Some of the trees were as thick as 3 feet in diameter but had snapped cleanly from the trunk. Even stranger was that the trunks and branches of the fallen trees were scorched but only on the surface, not typical for a forest fire. Kulik followed in the opposing direction of the fallen trees and found the epicenter of the disaster; the trees here were all still standing except that the branches and the bark had been stripped completely off and were also completely unharmed by the fire. This phenomenon of the trees in this manner would later be seen in Hiroshima, Japan.

After his investigation was complete, Kulik reported that there was no impact crater and no fragments of any kind within the area. The only thing Kulik did find were circular pits that he concluded were from fragments of a meteorite, even though he didn’t find any. This was later disproven as the circular pits are natural depressions that occur from permafrost melting and freezing, a common occurrence in Siberia. Then there was the question as to why no fragments could be found within the area or even surrounding the area, Kulik’s only explanation was that the swampy area located near the destruction had absorbed the meteorite over the period of 19 years.

In the years following Kulik’s investigation and reports, many have tried to come up with their own theories explaining what happened that day but none have been proven true. The latest theory was reported as recent as 2007. A group of Russian scientists in 1934 were the first to provide a new theory. Kulik had believed that the event was caused by a meteorite that entered Earth’s atmosphere which resulted in the fireball. The scientists here believed that it was not a meteorite but a comet instead. A comet is made of mostly ice, so their theory is that it would have vaporized immediately upon impact with the ground, creating no impact crater or fragments.

During the span on the 1940s and 1950s, during the popularization and craze of space and aliens in movies, people came up with all types of theories about a race of aliens that had come to wage a nuclear war with the people of Earth. The event was again rehashed in 1973 but by a physicist this time who proposed the idea that Earth had collided with a black hole causing a matter-antimatter explosion. This theory has been revisited several times since by multiple different physicists from around the world. Later proposed, by a German astrophysicist, was the idea that a magma-gas mixture erupted below the surface of the Earth that caused the destruction and would also create an explosion in the atmosphere. The latest of theories came in 2007 which proposed that a lake near the area, Lake Cheko, is the impact crater. The amount of permafrost in the region prevents lakes from being big or deep and Lake Cheko is unusually deep for that area. The other unusual piece of information regarding Lake Cheko is that no lake was ever recorded there prior to 1908, but it must be said that the area was undeveloped and poorly mapped because of the sheer remoteness.

Even NASA has their theories. They state that the object that was seen flying through the air was not a comet or a meteorite, but an asteroid. The proposed asteroid would have weighed roughly 220 million pounds, it would have been traveling around 33,500 miles per hour, and the air surrounding the rock would have been heated up to around 44,000 degrees Fahrenheit. At a distance of 28,000 feet above the Earth’s surface, the asteroid was no longer able to withstand the pressure or the heat causing an explosion and a giant fireball. The energy released at the time of the explosion would have been equal to 185 Hiroshima bombs. Since no impact crater is at the scene of the crime, they report that the majority of the asteroid consumed itself during the explosion. If the majority of asteroid would have consumed itself, where are the fragments that NASA claims to exist? A scientist at NASA stated that an asteroid of the same size and magnitude is estimated to hit the Earth every 300 years.

Just as much effort has been spent on debunking the same theories that have puzzled scientists for years. Many have stated that it could not have been a meteorite that caused this event to happen because in order for the fireball to have been seen in the direction it was moving across the sky, it would have had to be flying in the opposite direction of the sun, which meteorites do not. Meteorites move in the same direction as the sun, which also means that they typically hit at night when the Earth would be facing away from the sun. In order for the meteorite to hit in the morning, it would have had to be moving in contradiction to its typical pattern. A comet is more likely than a meteorite because their range of orbits is greater allowing them to make impact in the morning hours. There is also reasonable evidence that it could not be a magma-gas mixture, as proposed in 1973, because it would not have created a fireball that flew across the sky. The destruction and the explosion, yes. The fireball, no.

There has never been any evidence that any person perished in the event, but thousands of reindeer were killed and many carcasses were found burned. Whether it was aliens trying to start a nuclear war or a black hole that we accidentally bumped into, one thing is clear, the area in Russia was completely wiped clean and still stands today barren of trees with no explainable reason as to why.

Charlotte