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An Unexplained Mystery: The Tunguska Event

HistoryAn Unexplained Mystery: The Tunguska Event

The Explosion

On June 30, 1908 in Krasnoyarsk Krai, Russia a mysterious event occurred. For Northern Trappers, it was day like any other. But then, as one observer described, “the sky split in two and fire appeared high and wide over the forest… 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 meters.” S. Semenov told that to Leonid Kulik during one of Kulik’s expeditions. This explosion, the blast that caused that strong heat, is one of the most disputed events and fuel for conspiracy theorists in history. Its name: The Tunguska Event. The Tunguska Event was one of the largest explosions in history. Its cause is disputed because of conflicting evidence. The most common theory is that it was a meteor.  Effects of the blast, possible causes, the attempts to find the meteorite fragments and the frequency of Tunguska sized event are crucial to understanding this event.

Magnitude and Effects

The effects of the blast were very wide spread.  The explosion power is estimated to be 10 to 15 megatons of TNT. A Megaton of TNT is the explosive power of 1 million tonnes of TNT or a cube of TNT as high as the Eiffel Tower. 15 times as much TNT exploding is the Tunguska blasts magnitude. According to Eugene Shoemaker. By comparison the largest US Hydrogen bomb test (Castle Bravo)  was 15 megatons. The  magnitude of this event can be now seem enormous.  There was also a vast effect on people. The closest town was Vinavara trading post. This site is 65 kilometers away from the epicenter but people were thrown several meters. Also, most of the windows within hundreds of kilometers were shattered. It made an earthquake recorded at 5.0 on the Richter Scale. The blast “knocked down some 80 million trees over an area of 2000 square kilometres.” ( Space Daily 1). The citizens of the Earth are lucky that this explosion occurred in a very remote area. People called this event an awakening to the meteor threat. After all, if this had occurred near a city millions would have died. The damage was shocking when the first explorer, Leonid Kulik,  laid his eyes on the epicenter in 1927. According to Vladimir Rubtsov, the decade delay in the investigation was due to the fall of the Tsars and government instability. The expedition was shocked to see “no crater. There was instead around ground zero a zone 8 kilometres (5.0 miles) across of trees scorched and devoid of branches, but standing upright. The trees farther away had been partly scorched and knocked down in a direction away from the epicentre.” (Boyarkina 112-128). You can tell the explorers surprise at not seeing a huge crater. 

The two images below are pictures of what Kulik saw when he visited the site of the Tunguska Event during the 1927 expedition.

This image was taken by Kulik in 1927. It shows trees that were knocked down by the blast in 1908. This work is in the public domain in the United States, because it was in the public domain in its home country (Russia) on the URAA date (January 1, 1996), and it wasn’t re-published for 30 days following initial publications in the U.S.
Another picture of the devastation caused by the blast. Kulik saw this wasteland, full of fallen trees, during his expedition in 1927. This work is in the public domain in the United States, because it was in the public domain in its home country (Russia) on the URAA date (January 1, 1996), and it wasn’t re-published for 30 days following initial publications in the U.S.

The epicentre is still devoid of trees because sterilization of the soil occurred with the immense heat. The Tunguska Event caused shockingly widespread destruction.

Possible Causes

The Tunguska Event’s cause is not entirely known to this day. The most obvious cause is an asteroid or meteorite traveling towards Earth.   There are many “different estimates of the meteoroids size, on the order of 60 to 190 metres (200 to 620 feet), depending on whether the body was a comet or a denser asteroid” (Nature 638-639).  There is much dispute about this theory though. Since there was no crater surrounding the place, people were mystified about where the meteor disappeared. People today think it was an air burst, that the meteor exploded in mid air, but there are some conspiracy theories about it. One theory is that the explosion was caused by the Serbian inventor Nikola Tesla. At the time of the explosion Tesla was running experiments at Wardenclyffe, a huge Tesla Coil meant to transmit energy. According to the Tesla Memorial Society of New York, Tesla could have transmitted a lot of energy into one place. Other conspiracy theories state that aliens could have crashed, says the Tesla Memorial Society.  One more plausible but still unlikely theory is that the explosion was caused by a lump of antimatter. All in all many theories about the Tunguska Events causes have been presented but none but the asteroid theory are credible.

Many people have searched for fragments of the meteor to see what the meteor was made of and if an event like this is likely to happen again. There were also many expeditions to the site. The first one was in 1927 led by the explorer was Leonard Kulk. He had visited the Tunguska River Basin in 1921 but had not been granted access to  visit the exact site of the explosion. This was probably due to political instability in  the new Soviet Union. Finally when he was granted permission to visit the site it was 1927. He was shocked at the destruction but he was even more shocked at the lack of a crater. In the 1930 Kulik returned to the site. his time he was searching for meteor fragments. He found a rock that he thought was part of a meteor. It was glassy and had bubbles from heat on it. This rock was lost in transit so no modern analysis could be conducted on it. according to space daily. The last attempt to find the fragments was in 1988. They found several rocks similar to the one Kulik described.  In 2008, a Geologist named Andrei Zlobin concluded that the rocks were of meteoritic origin. Some people are worried that another Tunguska Event might occur in a more populated area. The probability of a Tunguska style event has been predicted at least once a century. In 2013, the Chelyabinsk meteor exploded, shattering windows. The University of California says, “No major damage was sustained but it got people thinking about the Asteroid threat,” (“California” 1).

This is a picture is of a rock, known as ‘John’s Stone’, that was thought to be from the meteor. But, recently, it was found that this quartz boulder is probably of terrestrial origin. Immense heat did cause the formation of the structure of this rock, and that heat was probably generated by the explosion (LINK). Image by Cmbrenneisen58, distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.

In conclusion, the Tunguska Event is a very interesting event whose cause is shrouded in mystery. Firstly, the explosion produced widespread destruction and caused the death of many reindeer. Also, there is not a certain cause of the event. Lastly, many expeditions were made to attempt to locate the source of the explosion. Some people are very worried about the threat of a Tunguska Event happening over a city but the truth is that a more likely threat is Thermonuclear war. Also, people have recently found meteorite rocks, so the truth of Tunguska might soon be solved. Hopefully, though, we are safe from another Tunguska event, for now. 

Works Cited:

“Tunguska Event.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 10 Jan. 2018, 

“Mysterious Tunguska Explosion.” Tesla Memorial Society of New York,

“First Tunguska Meteorite Fragments Discovered.” Space Daily, 14 May 2013. General OneFile, Accessed 12 Jan. 2018.

Rubtsov, Vladimir. Full Text of “Tunguska Mystery”, Springer Science+Business Media, LLC,

Shoemaker, Eugene M. “Asteroid and Comet Bombardment of the Earth.” Asteroid and Comet Bombardment of the Earth | Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences, U.S. Geographic Survey, 1983, Accessed 1 May 2018.

Boyarkina, A. P., Demin, D. V., Zotkin, I. T., Fast, W. G. “Estimation of the blast wave of the Tunguska meteorite from the forest destruction”. Meteoritika, Vol. 24, 1964, pp. 112–128 (in Russian). Accessed 1 May 2018

University of California – Davis. “First study of Russian meteor: Chelyabinsk was largest meteoroid strike since Tunguska event of 1908.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 6 November 2013. <>.

 Lyne, J. E.; Tauber, M. (1995). “Origin of the Tunguska Event”. Nature. 375 (6533): 638–639. Bibcode:1995Natur.375..638L. doi:10.1038/375638a0. Accessed 2 May 2018

Image by Alexander Antropov from Pixabay


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