Astronomy

The Facts about the Tunguska Event



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"The Facts about the Tunguska Event"
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Tunguska

As the anniversary of one hundred years approaches, a re-examination of the events of 1908 in the Tunguska region of Siberia may once again raise questions as to what occurred there in June of that year. Many explanations have been offered, but no definitive answer to the question of what happened there that year has yet been obtained.

It was the time of the summer solstice, during the summer of 1908, a day with the most hours of daylight for all the lands north of the equator. The hours of daylight would become longer at this time of year as one moved further north, a fact usually celebrated by those in Russia, who embraced the seemingly endless summer light, knowing that winter would, in time, bring equal darkness. The summer solstice arrived and then was gone. Now light would slowly fade until the time of the winter solstice, the day of the year with the least hours of daylight for all who live north of the equator.

Almost immediately after the summer solstice in 1908, beginning on June 23, the night skies began to glow with new light. The clouds seemed bright and full of light and the sky included the bright colors of a volcano. During the daytime, the sun seemed to have a halo around it. People in Western Europe, including the United Kingdom, the European part of Russia and those in western Siberia, notice the unusual characteristics in the sky. (In the far-off United States, scientists at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and California's Mount Wilson Observatory noticed that the air did not seem clear. Later, others would think that dust, high in the air, had caused the halo and the clouds to shine in June of that year.)

The evening sky grew brighter each evening until it was the most glowing and colorful on June 29, 1908. After June 30, the night sky would become less colorful, although some after-effects would linger until late July. The sky, during this time, was brightest over eastern Siberia and middle Asia. People, in some places, remarked that they were able to easily discern a non-illuminated watch or read a newspaper at night under the brightly lit sky.

Early on the morning of June 30, 1908, a glowing and rapidly moving object appeared in the sky over western China. The object was headed north and, as it passed over Russia, seemed to turn and head west, according to one eyewitness. The roar frightened people in central Russia. In Siberia, the Tungus people (the Evenks) were to later think that this was a sign that the gods were angry.

At 7:17 a.m. on June 30, 1908, there was an explosion near the Stony Tunguska River in Siberia, as the object headed towards the ground. The sky would not be quite as bright again, though colorful sunsets would be reported in Western Europe, Scandinavia and Russia after this. In Irkutsk, about 550 miles away, a seismograph marked that an earthquake had just occurred. Tremors were also recorded in St. Petersburg, the capitol of Russia, and in Washington D.C. An abnormal aurora also appeared on June 30, 1908 near the volcano Erebus in Antarctica. "Black rain" fell around the Tunguska region as the shocks subsided.

The Stony Tunguska River region was and is an isolated area consisting mostly of forests, peat bogs, mosquitoes and swamps. Even nearly 100 years after the explosion, the only way to reach this area is either by helicopter or on foot. In 1908, the only ones willing to make the journey were fur traders and native tribesmen, such as the Tungus. As an emergency measure, in response to what had happened near the Stony Tunguska River, the chief of the Tungus sealed off the area where the explosion had occurred, declaring it "enchanted".

Far away, the tsar and his family were more concerned with religious mystics than mystified over the skies and explosion. Even if they had heard the rumors that, at the time of the explosion, trees were toppled in a pattern like a circle over an area greater than half the size of Rhode Island, or that people 300 miles away could see the smoke from the fire that would burn an area one quarter the size of Rhode Island and lasted for weeks, the tsar and his officials would (and did) ignore this isolated region. Did it really matter that a train 375 miles from the explosion was forced to suddenly stop because the engineer was afraid the train would jump off the tracks due to the shaking? Or that people 40 miles from the explosion were thrown into the air, one even landing in a tree, while windows broke and ceilings fell around them? The tsar sent no one to investigate these things, nor did he, nor did his officials, question why Vasiliy Dzenkoul's 600 700 reindeer, stores, teepees and hunting dogs were instantly burnt and turned into ashes following an explosion that mad noise like thunderclaps, which could be heard for 500 miles and deafened herdsmen. The only official willing to act had already sealed off the area.

No official questioned what had happened in the Tunguska region for 13 years. World War I began and ended. Russia entered the war, an unpopular one by the Russian people, who blamed the tsar for soldiers' deaths and heavy taxes. They also blamed the tsar and his family for being controlled by a mystic they considered evil. Rioting occurred and the tsar was forced to give up his throne. The tsar and his family were shot to death and a new government was established. Even the people of Russia had now forgotten about what had happened near the Stony Tunguska River in Siberia in June, 1908.

In 1921, a Russian scientist named Leonid Kulik, who had been given the job of finding and examining meteorites that had fallen within Russia, read an old newspaper story about the Tunguska explosion. He prepared for an expedition to visit Tunguska himself. It would take him six more years, and the assistance of the Tungus, to finally reach the site in 1927. To get there, he, and those with him, had to cross rivers and streams, cut through taiga and make their way through the "walls" of mosquitoes which inhabited the bogs and swaps that had to be crossed. Arriving at the edge of the Makirta River on April 13, 1927, he wrote, "The results of even a cursory examination exceed all tales of the eyewitnesses and my wildest expectations."

Even after nearly twenty years, a very long time to wait to study the scene of an accident or explosion, Kulik noted that the area of the forest which had been flattened by the explosion covered more than 40 miles and was in the shape of an oval. The trees had been uprooted and burned and their tops pointed away from the center of the oval, but the center did not contain a crater of any size. Instead, trees, which had been stripped of all branches, stood like poles at the center. And there was no piece of a meteorite.

Kulik determined where the center of the explosion happened and began to map the fallen trees. While doing this, he noticed that other, what appeared to him to be much older, ovals were in the same area. He assumed that these were old meteorite craters that had filled in over the ages. As his interest was in the Tunguska explosion of 1908, no questions were raised as to why so many craters were found at the same basic location.

An area called the Great Southern Swamp was seen by Kulik as being at the center of the explosion. He, and those who were to come after him, searched the swamp for pieces of meteorite, but found nothing. Kulik would eventually die as a prisoner of war during World War II after years of searching for non-existent chunks of meteorites.

In the 1940's, E.L. Krinov, a Russian scientist who had once worked with Kulik, suggested that whatever had caused the 1908 Tunguska explosion had exploded in the air, leaving no crater. His theory was accepted and added to later by another Russian scientist, Aleksander Kazansev, a scientist who also examined the after-effects of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Kazansev noticed that the Hiroshima bomb had exploded high in the air above the town, causing the trees directly below to become stripped of their branches, resembling poles, while flattening trees and houses in a pattern outward from the center of the explosion. This matched what had happened in Tunguska. At Hiroshima, there was also black rain after the blast, as well as a mushroom cloud, which eyewitnesses to the Tunguska incident had also reported. Scientists began to wonder if the Tunguska explosion had been caused by anti-matter or a mini black hole, while Kazansev wondered if an alien atomic powered spaceship had exploded.

Other similarities were noted between what had happened after the atomic explosion in Hiroshima and what had happened after the explosion in 1908 near the Stony Tunguska River. Reindeer in that Siberian region developed skin diseases similar to the Hiroshima human victims. Both areas experienced accelerated plant growth, in Tunguska, not only where the explosion occurred, but over the course of the area the object had passed over before exploding. In Tunguska, ant populations, seeds and needle clusters of pines showed genetic variations. The Evenks had developed unusual variations in their Rh blood factor.

Others took up the investigation. In the 1960's, it was noticed that there were actually four smaller centers within the larger oval, which might have corresponded with the sound of thunderclaps that had been heard in 1908, or, as they thought, separate and individual explosions. Each one of these smaller centers had its own pattern of fallen trees.

A group of Italian scientists analyzed resin from the fallen trees and found traces of matter embedded in the trees, particles of calcium, iron-nickel, silicates, cobalt-wolfram and lead. As these particles can also be found in cosmic matte, the question was once again raised as to why no pieces of meteorite, or even an asteroid, had been found. Peat bog samples, containing a layer from 1908, were found to have particles that had the potential to be explosive, and which resembled particles found in the upper atmosphere and in comet dust.

Due to the fact that atomic bombs and atomic powered devices would not be known on earth until the 1940's or later, and due to the fact that such devices were unknown on earth in 1908, the only possible source of atomic powered anything that could have crashed in Tunguska in 1908 would have had to have been alien in origin. There is a Japanese UFO group who believes that this is what happened.

The evidence found in the Tunguska region has raised questions that have evoked debate and speculation. Although theories as to what may have happened on June 30, 1908 at Tunguska have included scenarios involving meteorites, asteroids, comets, anti-matter, mini black holes and alien spacecraft, most scientists seemed to believe that the event had been caused by a particular kind of asteroid, based on the particles found in the resin of the trees at Tunguska. As if to prove a point, some have pointed out that pea-sized meteorites come into the earth's atmosphere at the rate of approximately 10 per hour, while the possibility of a rock, which could wipe out an area the size of New Jersey, could happen as frequently as once every one hundred years.

As the anniversary of one hundred years approaches, the event of 1908 in the Tunguska region of Siberia remains as enigmatic as ever. Only by re-examining the data, the location, the theories and the documentation can an answer as to what actually happened at Tunguska be determined. It is a puzzle without a definitive answer.

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More about this author: Peggy Barnett

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