What Really Caused The Tunguska Event?

By on May 23, 2012 at 6:49 am // Yesterday's Myths & Mysteries // 7 Comments

tunguskaexplosion

It began with a “bluish light,” a glowing object as bright as the sun. It swept across the skies of Siberia in the early morning of June 30, 1908, at about 7:17 a.m.

Then, a flash. A loud explosion. An invisible war near the Podkamennaya Tunguska River.

According to one eyewitness report, “the sky split in two and fire appeared high and wide over the forest…but then the sky shut closed, and a strong thump sounded, and I was thrown a few metres.”

All told, the force of the shockwave was likely equivalent to “1,000 times the power” of Little Boy, the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. For days after the event, the skies above Asia and Europe were haunted by a mysterious glow.

The Daily Mail reports that “Britain was lit for several days by a beautiful white and yellow sky, bright enough for midnight games of cricket and golf across the country.”

But to this day, the exact cause of this strange occurrence remains unknown. It has come to be called the Tunguska Event.

What Really Happened?

Location Of Tunguska Incident

The location of the Tunguska Event in 1908, now Krasnoyarsk Krai, Russia

Over the years, the lack of any real evidence for the source of the event led to various conspiracy theories and odd ideas.

One of the more compelling explanations is that it was caused by a sort of “natural” hydrogen bomb, which may have occurred via a “nuclear fusion reaction” within a comet. This was dismissed due to a lack of radiation at the sight of the event, among other reasons.

There were other explanations, however, such as a black hole passing through Earth, or some kind of antimatter catastrophe. Nikola Tesla even entered the list of possibilities; many claimed he caused the explosion during an experiment involving the Wardenclyffe Tower, or perhaps a doomsday particle beam.

As exciting as these possibilities sound, the most likely cause of the Tunguska Event was probably something a little more ordinary.

Was The Tunguska Event Caused By A Meteorite?

Blasted Trees

Trees were bent away from the epicenter of the explosion

Initial expeditions to the site of the incident — the first being in 1927 — concluded that the bright light and explosion was likely caused by a meteorite impact.

However, there was no crater. Scorched earth surrounded the epicenter of the explosion, but trees surrounding the initial blast area were strangely left standing, and only those farther away were knocked down.

Just as well, the glowing skies and little physical evidence of an impact led many to believe it was actually a comet that had exploded and disintegrated. The atmospheric glow may have been caused by reflections of water vapor.

Later expeditions would support the meteorite hypothesis. “Microscopic silicate and magnetite spheres” were found in the soil, containing “high proportions of nickel relative to iron.” This indicated a clear link to a meteoric origin, most probably a meteorite airburst given the lack of other physical evidence.

In fact, according to the U.S. Air Force, large meteorite airbursts occur within the upper atmosphere at least once a year. It’s just rare for them to be so massive and to occur so close to the ground, as was potentially the case with the Tunguska explosion.

This is what most scientists believe to have happened. If it were an airburst, the trees surrounding the epicenter would have been left standing because the airburst would have forced air downward vertically, then outward. And the mysterious, glowing skies would have likely been the result of meteoric dust and other debris lingering in the atmosphere.

Even so, conclusive evidence of the source of the Tunguska explosion has eluded researchers since it occurred in 1908, and its origins are still highly debated.

Have We Finally Uncovered Definitive Evidence Of The Tunguska Event’s Origins?

Lake Cheko

Italian scientists from the University Of Bologna now claim they have uncovered evidence of the Tunguska meteorite in Lake Cheko, a location long thought to have been an “impact crater” where at least one fragment of the obliterated meteoroid made it to solid ground (theoretically forming the lake).

Through a form of scanning, they believe they’ve found “chunks” of the meteorite.

According to the researchers, they arrived at their findings using

“…a magnetic and seismic reflection study of…Lake Cheko, located about 8km NW of the inferred explosion epicenter, that was proposed to be an impact crater left by a fragment of the Tunguska cosmic body.”

This discovery, they say, “supports the impact crater origin for Lake Cheko.”

Perhaps the meteoric airburst explanation is not as fanciful or compelling as a Tesla Doomsday Device or extraterrestrial interference, but we’ll have to wait for further information and research before we know what really happened, if ever. We may, in fact, never know.

The saga continues.

Location of Lake Cheko

The location of Lake Cheko

About the Author

Rob Schwarz is a freelance writer, blogger, and part-time peddler of mysterious tales. He manages Stranger Dimensions in between changing aquarium filters and modding Skyrim.
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  • GaborArsant2000

    The
    idea that Lake Cheko is an impact crater was put forward as long ago
    as 2007 (see: Gasperini, L., et al. “A possible impact crater for
    the 1908 Tunguska Event.” Terra Nova, 2007, Vol. 19, 245-251).
    But there is an article, in which this question is discussed in
    detail and the authors’ answer is definite “no”: G. S. Collins et
    al. “Evidence
    that Lake Cheko is not an impact crater”,
    Terra Nova, 2008, Vol. 20, 165-168. Also, I must add that the problem
    of the Tunguska explosion is rather complicated. For more information
    about it I would recommend the following books: “The
    Tungus Event or The Great Siberian Meteorite,”
    by John Engledew (Algora Publishing, ISSN 9780875867809), “The
    Tunguska Mystery,”
    by Vladimir Rubtsov (Springer, ISSN 9780387765730) and, with some
    reservations, “The
    Mystery of the Tunguska Fireball,”
    by Surendra Verma (Totem Books, ISSN 9781840467284). The
    question of the impactor’s nature seems to be far from its final
    solution.

    • http://www.strangerdimensions.com/ Rob

      Hey, thanks for the information and sources.

      You’re right, though. Even if they find something in Lake Cheko, that still isn’t a 100% confirmation of what happened during the Tunguska Event, or that Lake Cheko was related to it at all. 

      So, for now, I’m going to remove that bit in my article about “conclusive proof.” Like you said, it’s a bit more complicated than that.

      Thanks for your comment, and I’ll definitely look into the other articles you referenced.

    • GaborArsant2000

      Hi Rob,

      I highly appreciate your reply to my comments, as well as your very rational approach to Tunguska. This is a serious scientific problem and as such it should be solved in a purely scientific way – that is, without premature sensational claims. Unfortunately, not all specialists engaged in Tunguska studies understand this. “Spirit of time”, probably. :-)

      Best, Gabor

  • Jenkoul

    … Talk about “stranger dimensions”!  You might also want to check out “The Singularity Files” for an updated version of the Jackson/Ryan primordial black hole impactor theory of the Tunguska Event. It’s a free ebook available for the following readers:

    * Kindle
    (http://www.amazon.com/Singularity-Audiobook-Seminars-Sequence-ebook/dp/B0080JGVPG/),
    * Nook
    (http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-singularity-files-bill-desmedt/1110613193?ean=2940033174393),
    and
    * iBooks
    (http://itunes.apple.com/au/book/singularity-files-audiobook/id515778023?mt=11).

    • http://www.strangerdimensions.com/ Rob

      Very cool. I’ve got to admit, the black hole theory is definitely an interesting possibility, even if it is pretty exotic. Thanks for the heads-up about the book. 

    • Jenkoul

       You’re most welcome, Rob — and thanks for maintaining an excellent source of Tunguska news and commentary!

  • GaborArsant2000

    Jenkoul, thanks for the links! I’ve dowloaded “The Singularity Files” to my Kindle. Looks very interesting. By the way, I have just finished rereading “The Tunguska Mystery”, by Vladimir Rubtsov. A true Tunguska encyclopedia! There is a Kindle edition (
    http://www.amazon.com/Tunguska-Mystery-Astronomers-Universe-ebook/dp/B003R0LD6K/ref=tmm_kin_title_0?ie=UTF8&m=A1C7ZQRRSJ8CZZ ) – not free, though…