In 1908, a mysterious phenomenon known as the Tunguska event caused the sky to burn and over 80 million trees to fall. The most consistent explanation ensures that it was a meteorite; however, the absence of a crater in the impact zone has sparked all sorts of theories.
Every year, the Earth is bombarded by approximately 16 tons of meteorites that fall into the atmosphere. Most barely reach ten grams of mass and are so small that they go unnoticed. Some more can cause a glow in the night sky that disappears in a matter of seconds, but… what about meteors with the potential to lay waste to a region of the world?
Although the most recent impact of an asteroid capable of causing a global cataclysm dates back 65 million years, on the morning of June 30, 1908, a devastating explosion known as the Tunguska event shook Siberia with the force of 300 bombs. atomic.
At around seven in the morning, a huge fireball streaked across the sky over the central Siberian plateau, an inhospitable area where coniferous forests give way to tundra and human settlements are sparse.
Within seconds, scorching heat scorched the sky and a deafening explosion buried more than 80 million trees in a 2,100 square kilometer area of forest.
The event caused shock waves that, according to NASA, were recorded by barometers throughout Europe and hit people who were more than 65 kilometers away. For the next two nights, the night sky remained bright over Asia and parts of Europe; however, due to the difficulty of accessing the area and the absence of nearby towns, no expedition approached the site for the next thirteen years.
It was not until 1921 that Leonid Kulik (a scientist at the Saint Petersburg Museum of Mineralogy and an expert on meteorites) made the first attempt to approach the impact site; however, the inhospitable nature of the region caused the expedition to fail.
In 1927, Kulik led another expedition that finally accessed the thousands of kilometers burned and to his surprise, the event left no impact crater, only a 4-kilometer-diameter area where trees were still standing, but without branches. no bark. Around him, thousands more miles of downed trees marked the epicenter, but incredibly, there was no evidence of a crater or meteorite debris in the area.
“The sky split in two and a fire appeared above”
Despite the confusion, Kulik’s effort managed to break the secrecy of the settlers, who provided the first testimonies of the Tunguska event.
The account of S. Semenov, an eyewitness who was 60 kilometers from the impact and was interviewed by Kulik, is perhaps the most famous and detailed account of the explosion:
“At breakfast time I was sitting by the post house in Vanavara (…) suddenly, I saw that directly to the north, on the Tunguska road from Onkoul, the sky split in two and a fire appeared overhead and wide over the forest The split in the sky grew larger and the entire north side was covered in fire.
At that moment I got so hot that I couldn’t stand it, as if my shirt was on fire; from the north side, where the fire was, came a strong heat. I wanted to rip my shirt off and throw it down, but then the sky closed in and there was a loud bang and I was thrown a few feet.
I lost consciousness for a moment, but then my wife ran out and took me home (…) When the sky opened up, the hot wind rushed between the houses, like from canyons, which left traces on the ground like paths, and damaged some crops. Later we saw that many windows were broken and in the barn, a part of the iron lock was broken.
The explanation to the Tunguska event
NASA considers the Tunguska event to be the only record of a large-magnitude meteoroid entering Earth in modern times; however, for more than a century, explanations for the non-existence of a crater or meteorite material at the site of the supposed impact have inspired hundreds of scientific articles and theories of what exactly happened at Tunguska.
The most accepted version today ensures that on the morning of June 30, 1908, a space rock approximately 37 meters wide penetrated the Earth’s atmosphere at a speed of 53 thousand kilometers per hour, enough to reach a temperature of 24 thousand degrees. Celsius.
This explanation ensures that the fireball that lit up the sky did not make contact with the earth’s surface, but instead exploded eight kilometers high, causing the shock wave that explains the disaster and the millions of fallen trees in the Tunguska area.
And although other wilder theories without scientific support consider that the Tunguska event could have been the result of an antimatter explosion or the formation of a mini black hole, a new hypothesis formulated in 2020 points to more forceful explanations:
According to a study published in the Royal Astronomical Society, the Tunguska event was indeed caused by a meteorite; however, it was a rock made of iron that reached 200 meters wide and brushed the Earth at a minimum distance of 10 kilometers before following its orbit, leaving behind a shock wave of such magnitude that it caused the sky would burn and the millions of trees would be felled.