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ince the existence of humanity, our ancestors were most probably quite close to extinction without them even knowing due to various natural reasons that either way they did not have control over. About 100 years ago, a similar case happened where one of the biggest explosions on our planet occurred, yet only a few people were aware at the time as the internet didn’t yet exist.

The Tunguska event, named after the location it took place, was considered to be the doing of a big meteorite that hit the earth. This is what scientists also believed for over a century, but recently it has proven that nothing actually hit the earth, and just how lucky we got. Before dwelling on the recent scientific research, let’s look at the Tunguska event from 1908.

On the day of the event

It was a calm summer day in the remote Siberian region of Krasnoyarsk Krai which housed only a few inhabitants here and there along the forest. On the 30th of June, 1908 at around 7 A.M. (local time) the inhabitants woke up to a devastating explosion and immediately a shockwave which smashed all the windows and put every person to the ground. After the explosion, a wave of fire split the sky in half. The peasants described the event as the end of the world in their eyes, in only a short minute the whole Tunguska forest was aflame.

Putting the forest fire out was simply impossible, all of the local inhabitants had to leave the forest as the fire just kept intensifying because of the powerful winds coming from the Pacific Ocean. The fire lasted about 3 days, after the event, the locals which returned to their homes that were ashes described the view as hell on earth. Even if the explosion was one the biggest to ever occur on this planet, it was in a very remote location so it took a long time for people to hear about this event.

Map representing Siberia from 1908 (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

During the event over 80 million trees had burned down and flattened everything within a 2,000 kilometers radius. Based on the damage that the explosion had caused, scientists predict that it was 1000 times more powerful than the atomic bomb which struck Hiroshima in 1945. To offer you a more accurate comparison, the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima was the same as 15 kilotons of TNT whilst the explosion that took place at Tunguska was estimated to be around 10 megatons of TNT.

Most of the inhabitants relocated as they were afraid that such an event may occur once again. Either way, much of the wildlife which was crucial to their survival got scared away due to the huge explosion. Some believed it was a sign from the Gods, whilst others thought it was the army testing new weapons. The unexplained anomaly took years to reach the ears of scientists. This goes to show how remote the place was at the time.

A scientific anomaly for decades

In 1921, after 13 years since the event took place, Soviet scientists set out to investigate the blast zone. Until this time, the local inhabitants blamed the explosion on the gold miners who were frequently using too much TNT, however, no man at that point in time had so much TNT at their disposal to cause such an explosion. The scientists were pretty sure that it was a meteor so they looked for iron and other minerals that it could have been composed of.

Trees at the site of the Tunguska Event ( Source: Bettmann/Getty Images)

Surprisingly enough, the scientist managed to find absolutely nothing which left them scratching their heads as to what else could have caused such a powerful explosion. After a decade the event, scientists from across the globe came up with their own speculations such as “the debris of the meteor to be embedded hundreds of feet into the ground” which is plausible however, it would take far longer than just a decade for this to happen.

Near the Tunguska river, experts found the center zone of impact, this made them quite sure that it was a meteor or something that impacted the earth. One of the Soviet Scientists came up with the theory of the meteor exploding upon entering the lower atmosphere of the earth. In more detail, if it had exploded in the lower atmosphere, the debris is accelerated, creating even more friction with the atmosphere, which creates enough heat to burn up the iron and other minerals from the meteor.

100 years later, a new forest is growing on the site of the Tunguska explosion/ Siberia, 2008 (Source: Sovfoto/UIG/Getty Images)

Later on, a British astronomer by the name of F.J.W. Whipple came with his own theory which suggests that the body which struck Tunguska was not a meteor but in fact a comet. This would explain why no debris were found. Unlike meteors, comets are composed of ice and dust. In this case, the comet would have burned up due to the heat upon entering the lower atmosphere. However, this still would not explain the massive patch of ground that was left uncovered for so many years. This had surely been caused by a powerful impact.

A more interesting and plausible theory is one by astrophysicist Wolfgang Kundt who suggests that the explosion was caused by 10 million tons of natural gas released from within the earth’s crust. Once again not implausible, however, this would not explain the huge shockwave that would rather be created on physical impact rather than an explosion within the earth’s crust. Also, based on that amount of natural gas, a huge crust within the ground would have been created.

In 2009, modern scientists suggested that the Tunguska event was the result of matter and antimatter colliding near our galaxy. This has the effect of particles annihilating and emitting intense bursts of energy. A natural force that cannot be seen, however, it has immense power. Such an event is extremely rare to happen but plausible. Other scientists have looked at this from the perspective of a possible air burst. Considering that the meteor had exploded upon entering the lower atmosphere, this could have caused an air burst 10 kilometers above the earth’s surface.

Flattened trees from the Tunguska event (Source: Imgur)

However, most of these speculations have been diminished in 2013 by a group of scientists from the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine led by victor Kvasnytsya. The team analyzed microscopic samples of rocks collected near the center of the explosion site. The results showed that the rocks had a meteoric origin. Nevertheless, this still does not answer the question of where all the debris from the meteor had disappeared.

Taking into consideration the size of the supposed meteor that had caused such damage, there must have been a piece left intact. At the same time, with the speculations of the meteor being 100 feet wide, this should have formed a crator that would be at least 20 feet deep and 100 feet wide, yet the center of impact is quite flat. Every theory brought to the table also comes with new questions to this issue.

Zone of impact in 2009 (Source: Imgur)

Of course, for those who are a bit more knowledgeable, I can’t pass through this without suggesting Alexey Zolotov’s theory found within a book entitled “The New Soviet Psychic Discoveries” by Henry Gris and William Dick. Zolotov was Department Head at the All-Union Institute of Geophysical Prospecting Methods back in the Soviet Union and he had a very straightforward theory:

“This was not a meteorite or any other type of natural phenomenon. It made no crater in the ground. This was a compact nuclear device, sent with great precision, deliberately exploded over a relatively uninhabited area to let us know we are not alone in space”. (Quote by Alexey Zolotov/ Source:The New Soviet Psychic Discoveries, by: Henry Gris and William Dick, p267, p263, p238–239.)

If this were the case, although I do not like to refer to extraterrestrial beings when it comes to historic events, I would believe they would do a lot more damage. Earlier in the book it had been stated that eyewitnesses said that “shortly before the explosion, the Tunguska Body carried out a certain flight maneuver within the earth’s atmosphere, in the shape of a zigzag 800 kilometers in length… The sum total of all the evidence leads to the conclusion that the body was a probe from outer space that blew up within the Earth’s atmosphere for still not quite determined reasons”

Nevertheless, with this theory, it was believed that all perspectives have been touched upon and yet nothing was really offering an answer to please scientists and the rest of the world. As time passed, science came closer and closer to what many people believe is the actual true theory to explain exactly what happened.

A mystery, until now

Some scientists have taken into account the possibility of the meteor actually being an asteroid, however, an asteroid would have left a huge crater in the ground so that was not the case, but what if the asteroid just passed by?

Daniil Khrennikov at the Siberian Federal University in Russia run a computer simulation of the impact an asteroid would have if it would enter Earth’s atmosphere at an incredible speed, reaching Earth’s stratosphere and whizzing out of Earth’s atmosphere in a blink of an eye. The simulation was done based on an asteroid of 650 feet in size (200 meters) entering Earth’s atmosphere at 12 miles per second (20 kilometers per second).

The theory suggests that Earth was not actually hit by the asteroid, but simply the air burst created by the asteroid by entering Earth’s atmosphere at such great speed had such great energy that it caused this huge explosion. The angle at which the asteroid entered Earth’s atmosphere was very close to hitting our planet, instead, it just grazed the stratosphere.

When the asteroid entered Earth’s atmosphere, its speed was automatically decreased by the gravitational force of our planet. Based on the law of physics, that energy from slowing down such a huge mass had to be transmitted somewhere and it most likely ended up hitting Tunguska. This would explain why there isn’t a cosmic body at the scene and why no crater was formed.

This to me seems by far the most plausible theory. However, what is really scary is to think if an air burst from the asteroid had so much power, how huge would the explosion be from a direct impact?

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