What Caused the Patomskiy Crater?

WORLD HISTORY | May 17, 2019

Patomskiy Crater. Source: (wikipedia.org)

In 1949, in Irkutsk, Siberia, a geologist happened upon a mysterious crater. To this day, scientists have yet to positively identify what caused it. At first, it was believed to be from a meteorite, while others speculated about nuclear blasts, UFOs, and neutron stars drilling through the planet. Still, others believe the crater to possess deadly powers.

Discovered by Russian geologist Vadim Kolpakov, the Patomskiy crater, named after a nearby river, consists of a circular mound with a diameter of 520 feet and a height of 139 feet. In the middle of the depressed center is a rounded hill with a height of 39 feet. It has the vague appearance of an eagle’s nest with an egg inside and, as a result, has earned the nickname “Fire Eagle Nest.” Kolpakov was warned to steer clear of the crater by locals who insisted that it possessed an evil power and would kill anyone who stepped inside. Kolpakov was unafraid and survived climbing the mound; however, the leader of a 2005 expedition to the crater died of a heart attack shortly afterward.

Vadim Kolpakov and his wife studying the pictures the expedition made. Source: (The Siberian Times)

Kolpakov was the first to suggest that the crater was caused by a meteorite; however, he was unable to collect samples to support his theory. More recent expeditions have been able to get samples and, as a result, ruled out many of the theories contemplated since Kolakov’s discovery. A volcanic eruption was rejected due to the relatively small size of the crater and the fact that there are no volcanoes nearby. A nuclear explosion was ruled out due to the lack of radiation. The possibility of a UFO landing there would not explain the presence of limestone.  

Volcanic crater of Diamond Head at Honolulu, Hawaii. Source: (wikipedia.org)

The meteorite theory, however, was still on the table. Many supporters of the meteorite theory believed the crater to be connected to the 1908 Tunguska event. In 1908, a loud explosion occurred near the Podkamennaya Tunguska River in Siberia, just 70 km from the Patomskiy crater. The explosion was initially believed to be a meteorite, but no fragments were recovered and the area, while showing evidence of some sort of impact, was not a crater but a marshy bog.  

Site of the 1908 Tunguska Event. Source: (allthatsinteresting.com)

Some believed the fragments had been lost in the bog, but a few other theories were also considered. The most convincing of these was that it was not a meteorite but a comet, which consisted mostly of ice would have been vaporized upon impact. The Patomskiy crater offered a different explanation; however, the lack of meteorite fragments at this location as well still left researchers puzzled. Samples taken from recent expeditions showed the Patomskiy crater to be approximately 250 years old and thus proved that the two events were not connected.

The first picture of Patomskiy crater taken in 1971. Source: (The Siberian Times)

While the meteorite theory still has not been ruled out - scientists believe it could be buried beneath the crater - another theory has recently been suggested. This theory involves a steam explosion as magma beneath the surface meets hydrous rocks. In any case, it seems likely that whatever caused it is still affecting it as the crater frequently changes shape and the trees nearby allegedly grow faster than normal.

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