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Tunguska Event: Dress Rehearsal for Armageddon?

Updated on September 8, 2016
Photo of trees felled by Tunguska Event
Photo of trees felled by Tunguska Event

Siberia…the very name evokes vivid imagery of a forbidding frozen wasteland that is unfit for human habitation. Even the hearty indigenous tribes that sparsely populate the landscape never venture very far outside their village borders. As such, there are massive stretches of Siberia that have never, and probably will never, witness human visitation. This barren land provides the idyllic setting for a glimpse of what a post-apocalyptic Earth might look like. Ironically, an isolated area within this enormous and desolate section of the globe might have been the location of a dress rehearsal for a “deep impact” level cataclysmic event in the first portion of the Twentieth Century.

On June 30th, 1908, at approximately 7:07 am, a massive fireball was seen streaking across the morning sky above Siberia. Suddenly, there was a massive explosion in the atmosphere directly above Podkamennaya Tunguska River (which is now Krasnoyarsk Krai, Russia). The phenomenal blast, though airborne, was estimated to “have the effect of an extraterrestrial nuclear missile having the yield of 12.5 (= or – 2.5) megatons.” In other words, this event generated a destructive force which was three times as great as the atomic bomb that was unleashed on Hiroshima. The blast took place approximately 7.5 kilometers above the surface of the Earth; yet the damage incurred (though but a fraction of the potential devastation had the projectile impacted the ground) was spectacular nonetheless.

The energy released by the explosion killed reindeer and completely flattened trees for several kilometers around the epicenter of the blast…yet there was no crater to be found. The projectile (which was believed to be one-third the size of a football field) packed a wallop which even registered on seismographic equipment in England, where marked fluctuations in atmospheric pressure were also observed. Clearly, the nearest outpost of human civilization was destined to be subject to the force of the blast, as well.

S B Semedec was seated on the porch of his house in the small community of Vadecara, which was located about 60 kilometers from the scene of the explosion. He gave an excellent account of his experience for the first public acknowledgement of the event which appeared in the July 2nd, 1908 edition of the Irkutsk newspaper: “the sky was split in two and high above the forest the whole northern part of the sky appeared to be covered with fire.” (This “fire” would later be described by other witnesses as a trail of bright light which was almost too brilliant to look at). “At that moment, I felt great heat as if my shirt had caught on fire.” Subsequently in his tale, Semedec recalled hearing a “big bang and a mighty crash” before being thrown seven meters from his point of origin, and briefly lapsing into unconsciousness. The shaken eyewitness concluded his statement by reporting that, after regaining consciousness, he heard: “noise like stones falling from the sky, or guns firing. The Earth trembled, and when I lay on the ground I covered my head because I was afraid that stones might hit it.” While a majority of the superstitious locals believed that the explosion was the handiwork of the god Ogdy who was punishing the area by killing animals and destroying land; globally, Semedec’s account would seem to indicate that a meteorite exploding inside the Earth’s atmosphere was probably the culprit; and, initially, this theory was the popular conclusion. However, upon further investigation, other explanations began to surface.

The first expedition into the God-forsaken area where the blast occurred was undertaken 13 years later in 1921. It was led by Leonid Kulik, who was the chief curator of the meteorite collection in the Saint Petersburg Museum. Unfortunately for the team, the Siberian weather proved to be exceedingly inclement at the time, and the group was forced to turn back without reaching its destination. In 1927, however, Kulik again mounted an expedition to the region; and this time, the intrepid team reached its target. What the expedition found during its on-site investigation began to cast some doubt on the exploding meteor supposition.

Kulik and his crew were greeted by an awe inspiring sight. Trees up to three feet in diameter were snapped like toothpicks, and many others of equal size were uprooted and relocated at considerable distances from their original site—all lying in a radial pattern. Physics dictates that these fallen trees acted as markers that were pointing directly away from the blast’s epicenter. However, there was no trace of prevalent rock debris which would be necessarily strewn everywhere on site had a meteorite exploded. While there were several smallish holes scattered inconsistently at “ground zero” Kulik’s expedition did not include the excavating equipment required to investigate these anomalies. While Kulik would conduct three more investigative journeys to the site of the Tunguska Incident; due to extreme climate conditions and shoestring budgets, he was never able to procure physical evidence which substantiated the meteorite theory which he himself subscribed to.

Subsequently, a new postulation was made by scientists…it must have been a comet. Probably the most conclusive piece of evidence which supports this theory is the flight path of the Tunguska “fireball.” In a 1962 science journal, a scientist named Fesenkov observed: “According to all evidence, this meteorite moved around the sun in a retrograde direction, which is impossible for typical meteorites.” In essence, Fesenkov discounts the meteorite possibility because of the time of day at which the Tunguska Event occurred. He explained that meteorites rarely strike Earth during the morning, because the morning side of the globe faces forward in the planet’s orbit. Typically, the meteorite will overtake the Earth on its orbital path from behind on the evening side. Comets, however, have a myriad of orbits and velocities which could easily result in a collision with Earth on the morning side.

Additionally, in 1962, technicians scouring the Tunguska explosion site discovered traces of magnetite and silicate globules contained in soil samples acquired from the scene. These elements were thought to be of extraterrestrial origin, and were the product of “rapid condensation of incandescent gas upon cooling.” Essentially, the brilliant light that witnesses observed was actually the gas and ice particles which compose a comet’s tail. These trace elements that scientists discovered were the results of a physical reaction which occurred after the comet’s tail was dissipated. The rest of the components comprising a comet (ice, dust, small particles, etc.) would have evaporated during the explosion—thus, the lack of significant physical evidence at ground zero. Although the scientific principles behind the comet explanation were sound; as time passed, other theories began to emerge that were as diverse as the people who suggested them.

In 1946, Soviet author Alexander Kazantsev suggested in a fictional piece that the Tunguska Event may have been caused by a man-made nuclear bomb. Scientific writer T R LeMaire furthers this theory by observing: “The Tunguska blast’s timing seems too fortuitous for an accident.” The writer points out that a five hour delay would have made St Petersburg the target; or that a tiny change of course while in space would have created impact in densely populated areas of China or India. Based on eyewitness testimony gathered from various regions where the streaking object was observed passing overhead on that morning, LeMaire describes the accident assumption as “untenable” because he believes the object was being expertly navigated…like a pilot searching for the ideal, calm, and unpopulated location to drop his ordnance.

The body approached from the south, but when about 140 miles from the explosion point, while over Kezhma ,it abruptly changed course to the east. 250 miles later, while over Preobrazhenka, it reversed its heading toward the west. It exploded above the taiga at 60 degrees 55’ N, 101 degrees 57’ E (LeMaire 1980).

Although the application of such a weapon would have pre-dated Hiroshima by 37 years, a number of scientists began to contemplate the possibility. As such, after a 17 year investigation into the incident, a prominent Soviet scientist named Alexei Zolotov advanced the nuclear explosion theory into the paranormal realm. He proposed that a nuclear powered spaceship controlled by “beings from other worlds” had caused the massive blast. Zolotov believed that the spacecraft had exploded due to a comprehensive malfunction onboard. The obvious fallacy with Zolotov’s postulation-- as he himself conceded-- was that beings with such an advanced vessel would certainly have safety devices and overrides in place to prevent such a calamity. However, other eyewitness testimony of the vents that day seemed to lend credence to the alien theory. Peasants in the region reported a bright bluish-white “pipe shaped” (cylindrical) body gradually lowering toward the horizon. While in that same direction, trailing the object, they observed a small black cloud (exhaust--according to Zolotov). Shortly after the object continued on its course, passing the distant tree line and obscuring their view, the peasants recalled hearing the distinct sound of stones falling or gunfire…not a single explosive blast. But this was not the only imaginative solutions to the riddle of the Tunguska Event; other explanations for the incident also originated from the realm of that which some might call science fiction.

The anti-matter hypothesis was proposed in the 1960s by a group of investigators. The group believed that the projectile in question was an “anti-rock” composed of anti-matter which was annihilated as it drew near the Earth’s matter-laden surface. They further proposed that such an explosion would spike radiocarbon levels in the atmosphere. However, a lack of any significant statistical evidence within the team’s paper on the subject weakened their case. Moreover, meticulous C-14 measurements conducted on standing trees which had surrounded the area of devastation showed no increased radiocarbon levels.

Finally, in 1973, two scientists offered what is, to date, the last theory on the cause of the blast. They suggested that a black hole with the mass of 10 to the 22nd or 23rd g would easily boast power capable of causing the destruction witnessed at the epicenter of the blast. The two men maintain that the black hole sliced through the Earth “as easily as a hot knife through butter,” then exited through the Atlantic Ocean. Opponents of this theory refute its possibility by citing the aforementioned presence of the magnetite and silicate globules that were discovered in the soil. Furthermore, the microbarographs which recorded the air waves emanating from the blast site registered no such waves from any point in the Atlantic Ocean. Most researchers concur that a black hole would have produced similar destruction at its exit point on the earth’s surface, as it did at the spot where it entered the planet’s crust.

While science may never be able to definitively determine what caused the remarkable destruction seen at the Tunguska Event, one aspect is certain…the unknown culprit generated a fearful amount of power. It exploded well above the surface, and still registered destruction on the level of an atomic bomb. One can be certain that films like Deep Impact and Armageddon do not exaggerate; if and when an even intermediate-sized object from space collides with the Earth, the results will be cataclysmic.

What caused The Tunguska Event?

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Global map showing location of event
Global map showing location of event
Modern day aerial photo of  Tunguska location
Modern day aerial photo of Tunguska location


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