The Tunguska Event

“I saw the sky in the north open to the ground and fire poured out. The fire was brighter than the sun. We were terrified, but the sky closed again and immediately afterward, bangs like gunshots were heard. We thought stones were falling… I ran with my head down and covered, because I was afraid stones may fall on it.”

Witness of the Tunguska Event

At 7:14am on June 30th, 1908 in central Siberia, an enormous explosion occurred at an altitude of 15,000-30,000 feet causing an air burst. This air burst flattened approximately 80 million trees and charred approximately 40 square miles of pine forest.

The explosion was said to be a thousand times more powerful than the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan. Despite this, no crater was formed on the site. Six hundred miles away, seismographs picked up vibrations from the explosion and at 300 miles away from the explosion site, observers could hear “deafening bangs” and could see a “fiery cloud” on the horizon.

Eyewitness accounts indicate a “fireball” that lit the horizon. The ground trembled and the winds were strong enough to shake buildings and to throw people to the ground. The “object” that exploded was said to have vaporized, releasing gases into the atmosphere and causing an “abnormally bright nighttime sky” in Europe for some time after the explosion.  

It is believed that there was only one casualty from this explosion: a reindeer herder in a tent camp about 20 miles away who was blown into a tree and killed.

Scientists argued whether the object was a comet or a meteorite. Because there was evidence of a noctilucent cloud (a cloud formed as the result of a sudden influx of ice crystals into the upper atmosphere), scientists used this as the basis for the argument that a vaporized comet caused the explosion. Other scientists argued that the object was composed of stone or carbon like a meteorite. They suggest the object had a diameter of 150-300 ft. Many years later, very small meteoric remnants were found at the site.

It is not unheard of that objects of this size collide with Earth every hundred years or so. It is believed that the object exploded in the atmosphere and therefore created a fireball and blast wave, but no crater. The energy from the explosion was enough to set the forest on fire, however, the accompanying blast was enough to extinguish the fires immediately. It is for this reason, the trees on site were burned, but there was no sustaining fire.

Because the blast occurred in a location very difficult to reach in Siberia and because Russia was occupied with other political events, the Tunguska site was not investigated until 20 years after the explosion. The site was first investigated by Soviet scientist Leonid Alekseyevich Kulik from 1927-1930. Kulik found that 10-20 miles of trees had been felled from the epicenter outward, meaning that all trees had fallen away from the center of the explosion. At the epicenter, Kulik found a marshy bog, but no crater. Kulik believed that the ground was too marshy for a crater to form upon impact and thought that there was no debris as it had been buried in the swampy ground.

Over the years, many scientists came up with several explanations of the Tunguska explosion: alien spacecraft, a mini black hole, a nuclear explosion, or an antimatter/matter collision. Was it actually a meteorite or was this event truly supernatural?

Skye and Zach (Podcast Junkie) discuss what they think occurred at the Tunguska site and whether this mysterious phenomena was ever solved.  

Sources for this episode include the Britannica Encyclopedia, the Planetary Science Institute, and the BBC.

You can listen to this episode on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play Music, Stitcher, Buzzsprout, and all other podcatchers!

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