What was the Tunguska Event?

By | January 29, 2019

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Young forrest at the site of the tunguska meteorite explosion nearly a century after the event, siberia, russia, 2008. Source: (Sovfoto/UIG via Getty Images)

On June 30, 1908, around 7:14 AM, an explosion one thousand times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima occurred near the Podkamennaya Tunguska River in Siberia. Witnesses reported seeing a fireball on the horizon followed by tremors and hot winds forceful enough to blow people down and cause buildings to tremble. Seismic waves were strong enough to be recorded in western Europe. The blast could be seen as far as five hundred miles away and gases were released into the atmosphere which caused the nighttime sky to appear brighter afterward.

The cause of the explosion has been a topic of debate ever since. It was initially thought to be a meteorite impact or volcanic explosion; however, investigations at the time were hindered by the inaccessibility of the area as well as the political situation in Russia at that time. However, that didn’t stop scientists from trying to unravel the mystery. The first scientist to investigate the site was Russian mineralogist Leonid Alekseyevich Kulik who read newspaper articles about the explosion thirteen years after it occurred. Convinced the explosion was caused by a meteorite and hoping to recover extraterrestrial metals from the site, he traveled to Kansk and began reading up on the event.

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Aftermath of the 1908 Tunguska event. Source: (historyrundown.com)

He traveled to the remote outpost of Wanawara in March of 1927 and the following month discovered the impact site, a scorched 820-square-mile area consisting of more than eighty million flattened trees lying in a circle. The trees all pointed away from the epicenter, which was the area immediately below the explosion, in which Kulik’s team found not a single large crater but rather a marshy bog. They did, however, find several circular pits which they identified as craters produced by fragments of the meteorite. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to locate any of the fragments and could only conclude that they had been lost in the bog. While there is no concrete evidence to confirm this theory, impact from a cosmic body remains the most plausible explanation for the event