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Sunday, January 12, 2020

Mystery: The Tunguska Event

Aerial view of the Tunguska blast site nowadays.

Death from the skies!

This is what seems to make tabloid headlines every few months. NASA or some other space agency (though it’s almost always NASA) supposedly says that there’s a “killer asteroid” headed our way in X years. When it hits, we’re all dead! Just like the dinosaurs before us, we will be wiped out by a giant space rock and there’s nothing we can do about it.

These claims are, of course, clickbait. No one from NASA has said that there is a dinosaur killing sized chunk of space rock that will crash into our happy little planet and make us all enter the Forever Box. Alas, we can’t let facts get in the way of some good clicks for sensationalistic journalism.

Still, that doesn’t mean that our rocky friends from space haven’t hit us before. Every year, a plethora of meteors strike Earth, but they’re either too small to do any damage or burn up as they enter our atmosphere. In other instances, they do land, but are unnoticeable or make for a good viral video because they light up the sky.

In some rare instances, they actually do some damage and kill a lot of life. One good example of this is 99942 Apophis, a 1,080 foot wide asteroid that caused a pretty big scare when it was said it may hit Earth in 2036. An asteroid the size of Apophis typically strikes Earth once every 80,000 years. It wouldn’t cause an extinction level event mind you, but folks on YouTube and tabloids would have you believe otherwise since they made it out to be a doomsday rock from the high heavens.

A comparison of the Empire State Building and Eiffel Tower to 99942 Apophis.
Nowadays, they say that Apophis has a 1 in 150,000 chance of hitting Earth on April 12, 2068. These chances are subject to change and given that’s not for another 48 years (rounded) as of the time of this writing, one can bet that it’s likely we’ll either be able to send Apophis to Mars, Venus, or just straight out of the Solar System. Or, even more likely, Apophis will whoosh by our planet and go on its merry way.

Though what if it didn’t? What if it—or another still sizable asteroid—were to hit us? What would the damage be like?

As I said before, there have been asteroids that have hit Earth. There have also been meteors and comets. The thing is: it’s very rare, but when it happens, people definitely know. The devastation can be tremendous and the loss of life can be unbelievable…

Unless it lands somewhere remote, where the loss of life is minimal and nobody really notices it. This is  the case of today’s story, which has become known as the Tunguska Event. While many have come to accept the theory that what caused this incredible event was a comet, some remain unconvinced. As such, we’re going to take a look and see if we can discover the truth behind it all. So let’s dive in!

The Sky Split in Two: The Mystery of the Tunguska Event

Our story begins on June 30th, 1908. At 7:17 A.M., a bright blue light filled the sky—which was said to be larger than the Sun (though not as bright)—before a cataclysmic explosion encompassed the area. Reindeer herders near the blast were knocked back several meters from where they rested in their tents. One man was supposedly outside of the tent and thrown back several meters against a tree. He suffered a compound fracture in his arm and later died of his injuries. The reindeer meanwhile were all killed; the other herders survived.

The shockwave from this blast was felt over 60 miles (about 100 kilometers) away, shattering windows and knocking people off of their feet. Per the description of one man who was seated outside when the explosion happened:

At breakfast time I was sitting by the house at Vanavara Trading Post, facing north. I suddenly saw that directly to the north, over Onkoul's Tunguska Road, the sky split in two and fire appeared high and wide over the forest. The split in the sky grew larger, and the entire northern side was covered with fire. At that moment I became so hot that I couldn't bear it as if my shirt was on fire; from the northern side, where the fire was, came strong heat. I wanted to tear off my shirt and throw it down, but then the sky shut closed, and a strong thump sounded, and I was thrown a few metres. I lost my senses for a moment, but then my wife ran out and led me to the house. After that such noise came, as if rocks were falling or cannons were firing, the Earth shook, and when I was on the ground, I pressed my head down, fearing rocks would smash it. When the sky opened up, hot wind raced between the houses, like from cannons, which left traces in the ground like pathways, and it damaged some crops. Later we saw that many windows were shattered, and in the barn, a part of the iron lock snapped.

The sheer intensity of this explosion was so great that it was registered on seismic stations across Eurasia. The airwaves that from the blast were also detected in Germany, Denmark, Croatia, Batavia and even in Washington D.C. Topping things off: the shockwave the blast created was equivalent to that of a magnitude 5 earthquake. While that may not seem that terrifying at first, the amount of energy put out by such an earthquake is equal to that of 200 tons of TNT going off at once.

For days after the event, the night skies over both Asia and Europe were so bright that people were able to read the newspaper at night without trouble. The reason for this has been speculated to be due to ice particles that had formed as the object flew through the sky before exploding.

Speaking of the object: what exactly was it? That question was never really asked. Due to Tunguska being located out in Siberia—an extremely remote location without much of a population—that most just disregarded the event and went on with their lives. Although it’s estimated that three people died due to the explosion, they weren’t high ranking officials in the Soviet government. In fact, I believe all of them were reindeer herders. As such, life went on until over a decade later. It was in 1921 that a mineralogist named Lenid Kulik managed to persuade the Soviet government to fund an expedition out to where the object struck the planet. His method of persuasion was that the object was likely an asteroid and there would be a massive amount of iron where it landed. As such, Kulik and a team went out to the suspected impact site, which wasn’t difficult to find.

Over 80 million trees were flattened for 2,150 square kilometers (830 square miles). As such, the team follows direction that the trees pointed away from. It was at the point of suspected impact that they discovered the trees were still standing.

Or what remained of the trees.

A close up of the destruction caused by the blast.
They had been stripped of bark, leaves, and branches. All that remained were incinerated husks of what had once been flora. The force of the explosion had been so great that it made them remnants of Earthly life; the surrounding area serving as a massive arrow to what horrifying events can come from the sky above us.

That wasn’t the only oddity discovered though. In fact, it was normal by comparison to what the team had expected. Given that Kulik had theorized that an asteroid had struck the Earth, he was left dumbfounded when he realized there wasn’t a crater. Rather, all there was were flattened and burnt trees for miles—which is about 50% of what makes up Siberia (save for the part about the trees being felled and burnt).

Despite the lack of asteroid, iron, and everything else he expected, Kulik would return to the location along with other researchers. One of these took place in the 1960s where photographs were taken from the sky. It was during this trip that it was revealed that the overall pattern that was created with the flattened trees resembled that of a butterfly.

During these expeditions, silicate and magnetite spheres were discovered in the soil. Some have speculated that they were merely from the trees, which was later discovered. However, countering this was that the spheres also contained nickel relative to iron (among other several other metals). This is typically found in meteorites, which has led many to believe that the spheres were a part of whatever caused the Tunguska Event.

Throughout all of the expeditions to the site of the Tunguska Event, scientists were able to slowly put together a picture of what happened that fateful morning in 1908. An object from space—which has been speculated to be a meteor, asteroid, or comet—that was 160–620 feet (50–190 meters) wide entered the Earth’s atmosphere. It heated up to about 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit (27,760 Celsius) and proceeded to explode about 4–6 miles (6–10 kilometers) in the air. This, ultimately, caused the awe-inspiring destruction that’s been estimated to be 1,000 times the power of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima; a 15-megaton blast that could’ve wiped out an entire city in the blink of an eye.

Events like this are quite common in the realm of astronomy. They occur at least once every 300–1,000 years. Meanwhile, meteors strike the Earth every day; heck, if you want proof, take a water bucket and put a magnet in it. Put it near a gutter of your house and grab a hose. Then spray the roof of your home for a bit. After a bit (be it 15 seconds or a minute), stop and check the bucket. Anything that’s stuck to the magnet is a meteorite.

Every year, a 5 kiloton airburst occurs in our atmosphere that’s caused by a meteor. Our atmosphere protects us from a lot of space rocks as they typically burn up while entering. This is why the size of the suspected Tunguska object varies so much. If it was moving slowly, it was smaller. If it was moving quicker, it burned up less. Most speculate it was moving at a speed of 7 miles (11 kilometers) a second.

That said, there’s no meteor, asteroid, or comet that currently poses a threat to Earth. Even 99942 Apophis, which I mentioned at the start of this entry, isn’t likely to hit us in 2068. The Tunguska Event could have been devastating, but it hit a remote location. As such, it’s more of a strange story to tell when discussing quirky events from around the globe.

With that, the story of the Tunguska Event comes to a close. It’s over and done with; it’s been solved, right? Well, not quite.  It’s not entirely known what kind of space rock exploded that day; there’s still debate on if it was a meteor, asteroid, or comet. Well, that’s if it was even a space rock. I digress though, let’s get to the theories!


1. It was a space rock

For our first theory, I’m going to lump together the usual suspects into one pile as the theory is more or less the same across the board. All that changes is the name, minerals, and other unimportant details (unless we’re to get into specifics, then it’s all very important). For this theory, the culprit of the cataclysmic explosion was either a meteor, asteroid, or comet. I discussed this above, so I needn’t say more.

This theory has been accepted by most professionals and has more or less put the story to rest. So why continue to discuss it? Well, besides the historical aspect, most don’t question the “official” version of events. Those that do are generally disregarded and labeled as conspiracy theorists, loons, and other derogatory names. I, for one, don’t like labeling people such things unless they’re David Icke (it’s a joke, don’t take it personally, Mr. Icke or followers of him). As such, there are two popular (or what I’d call popular) theories that go against the official explanation. They’re the main focus, so let’s get to them.

2. It was a UFO

This theory could, in all honesty, be about three sentences long. Every time something that isn’t rain, snow, or sleet falls from the sky, someone is likely to say that it was a UFO that crashed. We’ve seen this happen with Roswell and Kecksburg; two mysterious objects crash, the military comes in, and then they say it was something perfectly normal/terrestrial.

In the case of Roswell—which I’m sure that everyone knows about—an object crashed in the desert of Roswell, New Mexico. Originally, it was said to be a UFO. This report came from the United States military, but it was later changed to a weather balloon. This change has been widely criticized and most believe that the truth was covered up by the government and military in order to hide the truth about the existence of extraterrestrial life. We’ll get to this in December though.

With Kecksburg, I wrote about this in 2018’s Decemystery. The gist is that it was Pennsylvania’s Roswell and while NASA said it was a Soviet satellite, they “lost” their findings in the 1990s. Given that NASA has the reputation of the CIA when it comes to anything involving UFOs, it goes without saying that this explanation has been ridiculed. I digress, this incident went a lot like Roswell. A fiery ball was seen from the state of Michigan all the way to Pennsylvania where it crashed into a forest. The army came in, whisked it away, and that was that. It goes without saying that this was widely believed to be a UFO and not something normal.

With Tunguska, the situation is similar in some ways and different in others. There are also two variations to this theory. The first is that a UFO outright crashed in Tunguska that fateful morning and the Soviets (eventually) took the wreckage and concealed it from the public. Exactly why they never tried to reverse engineer it in order to win the Cold War (should you be of the opinion that they lost it), I don’t know. Let’s not get political, though.

Evidence for this theory is mostly fueled by speculation. For starters, the trees at the sight never regrew; most find this strange and perplexing. Most explain this away with the force and heat of the blast more or less killing the trees and everything else in the immediate vicinity of the blast. Some don’t buy this and think that radiation and other factors a UFO would bring to Earth as the real reason. There’s also the butterfly pattern of the flattened trees (which was recreated in a test, but I digress). Some find that to be odd and incapable of being a coincidence. On a final note: the bright lights are also an oddity to some.

Then there’s the second version. Per Universe Today, a scientist claims that a UFO collided with a meteor to save Earth from extinction.

Benevolent aliens are by no means something niche or rare. There are many abductees who claim that aliens watch over Earth and protect it from many, many threats or actively keep malevolent aliens at bay. You could compare it to the angels of Heaven if you’re religious (which is actually something of a theory in of itself that I’ll try to get to this year). I digress though. This theory posits the benevolent alien idea and that an alien sacrificed itself to protect us from a space rock. So thank you, alien bro. I will always remember you.

Joking aside, this theory really depends on your belief of aliens being in contact with—or watching over—us. To some, this is absolutely the case and we’re being guarded by them. Which species depends on which supposed abductee you listen to. Greys, Venusians, Mantoids, Draconians, Reptilians, Zetans, or any other ans that allegedly exist. It’s all speculative, but to some: it's an absolute fact. As such, the theory of the kamikaze alien is entirely on you and you alone.

3. It was Nikola Tesla’s death ray

This man is a hotbed for mysteries and conspiracies. Long have I desired for a good excuse to talk about him and today I get one.

Nikola Tesla is a man who’s been credited with having had schematics for the electric car and time travel. The latter of these two I want to cover this year as it ties into the legend of John Titor. His work was also analyzed posthumously by a man named John G. Trump, the paternal uncle of the 45th President of the United States, Donald J. Trump. John Trump also developed rotational radiation therapy.

Tesla’s life is a fascinating one, but it’s also viewed by some as being over sensationalized. Nowhere is that more evident than with his death ray. It is true that Tesla believed that every country should have its own death ray in what was more or less an early form of MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction). For those that don’t know what that is, it’s the idea that keeps us from launching nuclear weapons at each other; basically a no-win scenario in the event of another war like World War II. While there are those that think that some countries have developed their own death ray, there’s never been any proof of this and it’s understandable why given that if it was revealed that a country had one, there’d be a geopolitical shitstorm.

That hasn’t stopped video games like Call of Duty: Ghosts from utilizing the idea though! In the event that South America ever lost its access to football (soccer for us American folk), they’d rebel against us because freedom. Why am I joking about this? Well, the death ray idea has become a rather popular one in recent years. Many folks—who I’d hate to call conspiracy theorists as I have little doubt that the militaries of the world have prototypes of many fascinating weapons and toys—are adamant that the United States has death rays at their disposal. It would be something that would only be used in Black Operations though. Some think that the recent earthquakes that took place near Iran’s nuclear power plants might’ve been caused by an earthquake machine (or by a death ray being used to destroy some secretive base).

All of that information brings us back to Tesla. It’s he who is the progenitor of the death ray concept and it’s he who we can thank for the Tunguska Event. As the story goes, Tesla wished to showcase a device of his to a friend in the North Pole. However, the test went awry and it created a massive ball of energy that went into the atmosphere and eventually exploded over Tunguska. There’s not much more to it than that.

So exactly what’s the evidence for this? Well, not much. We’re left to take the word of Tesla and that’s about it. While the man was a genius, it’s extremely difficult to take one man’s word at face value, especially when we’re left to believe that he managed to create a fully functional death ray back in 1908 and nobody ever bothered to use or reveal it to end the likes of World War I or World War II.

I do want to one day go into more detail about the supposed inventions of Tesla, but for the time being: I’ll leave this theory up to you. It’s one of the more popular ones among those who think that Tesla was more than we make him out to be. At least he got the last laugh over Edison. At least Tesla is now a car.

My Take

While the concept of a death ray or UFO crash makes for some great science-fiction, I’m inclined to believe the official story that it was a comet. I don’t understand why the Soviets wouldn’t boast about having some sort of hyper advanced aircraft like a flying saucer if it had been a UFO. As for the death ray, that’s a bit harder to explain. Nikola Tesla was a very interesting man who was undeniably intelligent. Though I don’t quite think he demonstrated a death ray from the North Pole and it somehow ended up striking Tunguska. Though that isn’t the only strange theory that surrounds the man. Those are stories for another day though. For now, I think it was a comet—or asteroid or some other space rock.


Kaboom! The land of Tunguska saw a zoom in the sky and a major boom filled the air.

Just like that, the land of Earth was scarred by the chaos of the universe. It’s happened before and it will happen again. Many fear it, but must come to terms with the fact that they cannot control it. Likewise, some must come to terms with how every event from the skies is not from a UFO or aliens—in my eyes at least. I’m but some lonely soul that writes on a blog in the hopes that he will get noticed, so my word doesn’t mean a whole lot in the grand scheme of things. Perhaps I am wrong though and there is a grand conspiracy that hides the truth of what happened in Tunguska. What do you think, dear reader? Do you believe there is more to this legendary event? Or is it more mundane than some make it out to be?

1 comment:

  1. Okay, so a few facts I already knew and a few I didn't know. Interesting. But yeah, the Tunguska Event makes GREAT sci-fi material. Seriously, it's in Russia and may have been a UFO if you believe some people. Do I need to say more?

    Though the Death Ray theory needs more love, like it does. I mean, its Tesla people. Go wild with your sci-fi fantasy!