Tag Archives: Tunguska Event

What was the Tunguska Event?

28 Mar

Early in the morning of June 17th, 1908, an enormous explosion rocked a remote Siberian area of Russia known as Krasnoyask Krai. The explosion was so massive that it leveled an entire forest of 80 million trees, and it is estimated that it was more than 1000 times more powerful than the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima during World War II. The epicenter of the explosion was in a swamp near the Podkamennaya Tunguska River, so the event became known as the Tunguska Event.

Location of the explosion's epicenter in Russia

Location of the explosion’s epicenter in Russia

Luckily, despite the size of the event, it is thought that only one person was killed by the blast (although, not so lucky for the poor man who was killed). This was due to the sheer remoteness of the area that was hit. A lot of people did see it happen, though. Witnesses from areas much farther south claimed that they saw something extremely bright and pale blue moving across the sky, and a few minutes later there was a bright flash accompanied by a thunderous sound. A shockwave, which would have registered at 5.0 on the Richter scale, caused people to be knocked off their feet hundreds of kilometers away.

Fallen trees after the explosion, taken in 1927 by Leonid Kulik's expedition to the area

Fallen trees after the explosion, taken in 1927 by Leonid Kulik’s expedition to the area

So, what actually caused this massive explosion? There are several theories. Some have claimed that it may have been caused by the release of natural gases from the Earth’s crust, and others proposed that the explosion may have been a nuclear one; caused by deuterium in a comet undergoing nuclear fusion as it entered the Earth’s atmosphere. Another theory claimed that it was caused by a black hole passing through Earth. And, of course, a lot of people have brought up theories involving UFOs and aliens, especially since as the event is referenced in pop-culture quite a lot.

However, the most widely-accepted explanation is that a large meteoroid or comet caused it, exploding just above the Earth’s surface. This would explain the lack of an impact crater in the area. If this is true, then it was the largest impact event on or near the Earth in modern history. Chemical analysis of soils in the region showed that parts of it contained materials of extraterrestrial origin, further supporting this impact theory.

Meteor. Credit: Navicore

Meteor falling to Earth. Credit: Navicore

Despite the fact that the Tunguska Event is still technically unexplained, I would agree that the impact event theory seems to be the most likely. I think it would be even more interesting if there were a more mysterious explanation, though! It’s also very fortunate that it happened in such a remote area, because if it hit a populated area, then the aftermath would have been far worse.

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