The Tungaska Event

People enjoy complicated, mysterious explanations of why and how things happen.  In a more reasonable way of seeing a phenomenon, is in the use of Occam’s Razor.  That is, a scientist or person should first try simpler hypotheses before advancing to more complicated, fanciful, or arcane explanations to develop a theory.  This is a good rule of thumb, but not necessarily irrefutable.


A good example of the desire to explain an impressive event with an equally impressive scenario is the Tungaska Event. It was June 30, 1908 at 00:14 UTC near Krasnoyarsk Krai, Russia.  The event culminated in the vicinity of the Podkamennaya Tunguska River.  A massive, highly destructive explosion occurred just over the ground.  The most accepted estimates of the strength of the explosion range from 10 to 15 megatonnes of TNT.  That is a force about 1,000 times greater than that from the American atomic bomb dropped onto Hiroshima, Japan.

Thankfully, the explosion over Russia was NOT near a town or city.  The shock wave from the blast may have registered 5.0 on the Richter scale.  A force that strong would easily destroy a large metro area.  What it DID do was to kill animals and destroy approximately 80,000,000 trees on an area around 2,150 square kilometres, or 830 square miles. Only one man was killed.  That happened when he was thrown against a tree.

Outside of the main area of destruction, windows were rattled and broken over 250 miles away.  The ground shook under most of Russia. Atmospheric disturbances happened over much of Europe and Great Britain. A black cloud covered the general vicinity of the blast and a peculiar glow lit the skies over Europe that night. In short, the Tungaska Event was the most singularly destructive natural explosion in all of recorded history.

Ignoring Occam’s Razor for awhile here, let’s check out some of the more interesting hypotheses. Because the explosion was so impressive, some laymen postulate that the mystery is solved when the idea of a UFO crash is considered. Perhaps the power source of the craft was nuclear and detonated when it made contact with the earth’s atmosphere.  That is easily debunked as there is a lack of radioactivity or peculiar metals in the Tunguska area.

In an effort to cast aside the embarassing, irresponsible UFO hypothesis, some investigators tried out other explanations. In 1930, the idea that a piece of antimatter collided with Earth caused the event, this was before science understood how to detect its presence.

It was fashionable, for awhile, to posit that a very small black hole went through the planet.  The problems with that idea are numerous.  For one, there was no “exit wound” anywhere on the planet.  Also, because of the nature of black holes, the entire planet would have soon been destroyed.  There is some controversy as to whether or not tiny black holes can even exist naturally.  The only ones observed have been artificially created in massive, manmade particle accelerators.

One of the more amusing explanations is that the giagantic explosion was caused by some sort of death ray invented by Nikola Tesla.  This notion was posited because Tesla had once experimented with his idea of “terrestrial waves”. He wished to transmit energy to the Arctic Circle by pumping immense amounts of electricity into the Earth.  His experiment came to a halt when a nearby power plant’s generator shorted out. There was also a report of a local artificial lightning storm. Even if Tesla could have set off an explosion, it wouldn’t range into the megatonne variety.  Plus, there are the eye witness reports of a massive object falling through the atmosphere.tunguska-ArtDavis2

The most plausible and logical explanation comes as the result of actual evidence.  That is a meteoroid or a comet appeared to have exploded in the air.

The investigation of the Tunguska Event was delayed because of many factors.  They include the serious social unrest prior to the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. Another important reason is that the area of the event is so very isolated from the population centers of Russia.  Finally, in 1921, the Russian mineralogist Leonid Kulik visited the river basin as a part of the Soviet Academy of Sciences survey. Kulik believed that the explosion was caused by a giant meteorite.

Subsequent expeditions by Kulik and the academy yielded inconclusive, and disputable results.  Further contributing to the mystery is that the chairman of the Committee on Meteorites of the USSR Academy of Sciences had 1,500 negatives of photographic images of the site burned under the excuse that the negatives were a fire hazard.

Contradicting any arcane explanations, were results of investigations made in the 1950s and 1960s that showed that high amounts of nickle and iron were present in the blast scene soils.  A research team led by Victor Kvasnytsya from the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences discovered and analyzed micro samples from land near the epicenter of the blast.  The samples turned out to be fragments of a likely meteoric origin.  All of the evidence is consistent with expected and observed debris distribution from meteorite air bursts.

Even though the mystery of the Tunguska Event has largely been solved, there are still many aspects that tickle our active imaginations.

до свидания (Dosvidaniya)

The Blue Jay of Happiness thinks that the Tesla Coil,terrestrial wave hypothesis is the most interesting one.

About swabby429

An eclectic guy who likes to observe the world around him and comment about those observations.
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