Image: University of Maine
On June 30, 1908, the Earth experienced an explosion 1,000 times the magnitude of the the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan (shown above). The event resulted in the flattening of 80 million trees over an area roughly the size of Washington DC, and a century later scientists and UFO enthusiasts are still debating about what caused this colossal 5-30 megaton blast, and what happened to its mysterious remains.
Image: WikiMedia Commons
Dubbed the Tunguska Event, or Tunguska Explosion, because of the location of the blast in the Tunguska Valley of Russia, the event would have registered a devastating 5.0 on the Richter Scale, had it been invented at the time. And had it occurred about five hours later in the day, the Earth's rotation would have guaranteed that instead of killing 1,000 reindeer, the blazing object would have completely wiped out St Petersburg.
Instead, and luckily for us, the explosion happened at approximately 7:17 in the morning in isolated Siberia where only one unfortunate person died from the blast. Locals first noticed an extraterrestrial object zip bright blue across the clear sky; not long afterward, there was a flash, intense, blistering heat and loud thundering. Windows broke and people were knocked to the ground.
Russian mineralogist Leonid Kulik obtained this testimony from S Semenov during his 1930 Tunguska expedition:
"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 yards. 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."
Image: WikiMedia Commons
Thousands of miles away, changes in atmospheric pressure occurred. For weeks, the night skies in England glowed with an eerie light caused by dust from the explosion. It was so bright that people didn't even need their lamps to read!
And what makes this event more bizarre is that the explosion seemed to have occurred in the sky; the actual impact from this object, whether asteroid, comet, or UFO cannot be found. Some accounts even note that the unidentified object made two 45 degree angle turns to avoid harming human life before it blew up, and that a mysterious, towering human/yeti-like creature haunted the woods years after the blast. This led alien pundits to claim that life forms from another planet were trying to make what would turn out to be an unsuccessful emergency landing on Earth.
Image: Google Earth via GIS Development
Scientists have had their fair share of wacky ideas to explain the event as well. Some claimed that a 'small' black hole had entered the Earth, that it was an explosion of antimatter, or that deuterium in a comet underwent a nuclear fusion reaction. Although these theories have all been rebuffed, the Tunguska event still holds scientists and others captive 100 years after it occurred. The most recent, and perhaps more probable explanation about the mighty Tunguska explosion has been offered by a 2007 Italian expedition, which asserts that nearby Lake Cheko is the impact site.
Scientists are also running experiments to predict when the next similar impact might hit the Earth and how we might possibly avoid its disastrous effects. It's predicted that these types of events happen about once every 1,000 years – good news for us, because none of us want to get hit by anything near the size of the Tunguska event.