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Oct-25-2010 19:29printcomments

History Mystery: Tunguska Explosion of 1908

Theories abound explaining the how and whys of the Tunguska Event, yet none have been definitely proven as the penultimate answer.

Siberian landscape flattened by the Tunguska Event
100 years after the fact, flattened trees still cover the Siberian landscape. Photo: msnbc.msn.com

(CHICAGO) - On June 30, 1908 something exploded over the central Siberian forest near Stony Tunguska River in Russia. Countless herds of reindeer were incinerated and several rustic villages vanished from the face of the Earth.

Researchers say several quartz
boulders with mysterious writing
were found in the Tunguska
river basin in 2006.

The concussion was so powerful its ferocity would not be approached for another 37 years, when the atom bomb was detonated over Hiroshima, Japan.

Yet even the 'Fat Man" atom bomb dropped on Nagasaki was 1,000 times less powerful that the Tunguska Event. In fact, the most powerful nuclear weapon ever detonated - the Soviet Union's "Tsar Bomba" barely equaled one-third of the energy released over Siberia that June day 101 years ago.

The destruction was frightening. If whatever it was had released its explosive force over Moscow or St. Petersburg instead of a lonely, sparsely inhabited rural region of the country, those major cities would have been obliterated.

More than 500,000 acres of pine forest - 80 million trees - were splintered and overturned in an area roughly covering 830 square miles.

The concussive shock wave rolling across the countryside shattered windows 100 miles away was heard over a radius of 620 miles and registered as an earthquake on worldwide detectors.

All this and it never even touched the ground.

Evidence painstakingly gathered by investigators over the decades indicates an airborne explosion occurred that had remarkable similarities to a modern-day thermonuclear blast.

Eugene Shoemaker, the astronomer that discovered the comet Shoemaker-Levy that plunged into Jupiter's atmosphere, has estimated that events such as the Tunguska explosion occur about once every three centuries.

Theories abound explaining the how and whys of the Tunguska Event, yet none have been definitely proven as the penultimate answer.

Mainstream theories on what caused the explosion


[1] A catastrophic meteoroid air burst

Could a large meteor or small asteroid have caused the explosion over Siberia? That was the theory bantered about for many decades after the incident. It dominated for decades and still has many supporters. Yet the primary problem with the meteor/asteroid theory is that no incontrovertible meteorite residue or particles have ever been found other than tiny spheroids that may have been meteoric in origin.

A Russian expedition undertaken during 1927 found no evidence of meteoric material. No impact crater was discovered. The scientific team that included geologists drilled almost 120 feet down but no pieces of meteoric material was found.

[2] An icy comet explosion

Could the Tunguska Event have been caused by the explosion of a small comet or cometary debris in our atmosphere? That hypothesis was put forward in 1930 by the British astronomer F.J.W. Whipple. He believed that a comet, composed mainly of small rocky material and ice impacted the Earth's atmosphere, exploded with concussive force, and left no trace.

This hypothesis seemed to be supported by reports throughout Europe in the days following the Siberian blast of brightly glowing night skies. The glowing night skies can be explained by huge quantities of dust and ice generated by a comet exploding and reflecting ambient light.

Building on Whipple's original hypothesis, astronomer ubor Kresk argued in 1978 that the Tunguska explosion was caused by a fragment of Comet Encke. Then, in 1983 astronomer Zdenk Sekanina argued against the comet hypothesis. He proved that the Tunguska objects trajectory was so shallow that long before it could have exploded above the Siberian forest it would have vaporized in the upper atmosphere; therefore it could only have been a small asteroid. Later evidence bolstered Sekanina's contention that the object had to have been an asteroid when it was determined that the Tunguska object had its origins in the asteroid belt.

[3] A geophysical, catastrophic methane release

Professor Dr. Wolfgang Kundt

In January 2004, an astrophysicist at Bonn University named Wolfgang Kundt threw a new hypothesis into the debate.

"If a group of experts cannot agree for almost a hundred years, it's probably a third option," said Kundt.

The "Earth and Planetary Science Letters" published Kundt's article, "Contemporaneous mass extinctions, continental flood basalts, and 'impact signals': are mantle plume-induced lithospheric gas explosions the causal link?" in their January 2004 issue.

Basically this German physicist believes that the explosion was precipitated by more than ten million tons of methane gas. This gas, he argues, was released from deep within the Earth's crust. Such a massive release of explosive gas would be biblical in its destructive capability.

"Evidence of a similar apocalyptic release can be found on the Blake Ridge on the seabed off Norway, a pockmark of 280 square miles," Kundt stated.

Exotic theories

The so-called natural "H-bomb" theory

Could exotic material in a comet have initiated a natural thermo-nuclear chain reaction in the Earth's atmosphere leading to the Tunguska Event?

Two scientists, Serge J.D. D'Alessio and Archie A. Harms thought it possible in 1989. They theorized that a comet may have been carrying the element deuterium a component of nuclear fusion. The interaction with the atmosphere could have created a kinetic release of energy triggering a natural hydrogen bomb detonation. In 1990, Csar Sirvent, a nuclear physicist came to the same idea independent of D'Alessio and Harms.

However, subsequent studies have found no evidence of any radioactive isotopes in the blast area. The probabilities of a nuclear explosion are statistically zero.

The black hole theory

The idea of black holes has been kicked around since the late 1960s, but it wasn't until 1973 that two physicist, Albert A. Jackson and Michael P. Ryan from the University of Texas, postulated that the explosion might have been triggered by a microscopic black hole tunneling through the Earth. The weakness in this hypothesis is that no seismic activity was detected in the North Atlantic where the black hole would have emerged. Nor would it account for the dust trails in the upper atmosphere that were recorded after the explosion.

The proposed theory of antimatter particles

Back in 1941 an explanation for the explosion was hazarded by Lincoln Paz that involved the interaction of anti-matter particles with Earth. Fourteen years later during 1965 three other scientists, Chandra Atluri, Clyde Cowan and Willard Libby picked up the thread from Paz and postulated that anti-matter was the cause behind the event. The hypotheses is flawed, however, as no evidence exists that is what occurred. Furthermore, if events of this nature have occurred, astronomical evidence should be rife throughout our galaxy. Anti- matter/matter collisions would result in annihilation and produce a constant stream of gamma rays.

The theory of an alien spaceship crash

Called by some UFO theorists "The Russian Roswell," referring to the alleged saucer crash in Roswell, New Mexico during July, 1949, claims have been made that extra-terrestrial spacecraft debris has been secretly recovered from the blast area.

They claim that a UFO blew up over the Siberian forest in 1908.

Earlier this year, in March of 2009, the president of a dubious organization called the "Tunguska Spatial Phenomenon Foundation" reiterated all the claims made about an alien spacecraft being the cause of the explosion.

Dr. Yuri Labvin claimed that alien quartz slabs inscribed with a strange language had been retrieved at the epicenter of the blast site.

He further insisted that these slabs were all that were left of the main control panel of the UFO.

While these otherworldly conspiracy theories do nothing to advance the serious investigation of the Tunguska Event, they are creative and mildly amusing.

The Tesla connection

Without a doubt, the most fascinating theory to emerge in the great debate over the Tunguska Event is the contention the explosion was caused by Nikola Tesla, in other words it was man-made.

This controversial theory has been promoted during the past several years by Oliver Nichelson and others.

Nikola Tesla (1856 - 1943) is perhaps the greatest overlooked genius in American history. His inventions are legion and his investigations into the nature of electricity and magnetism are still finding applications today.

Among his many accomplishments, Tesla developed the technology that enabled television to become a reality; he enabled Edison's power plants to transmit electricity 1000 times farther than Edison's method; and he built and tested radio long before Marconi.

In one of those flukes of history, Tesla - a perfectionist - finally brought his radio transceiver (far superior to Marconi's rudimentary device) to the U.S. Patent Office two days after Marconi's application. The patent, of course, was awarded to Marconi.

Among Tesla's many inventions was broadcast power. His devices enabled machinery to run without being plugged in to an electrical grid. In his world, the entire Earth was an electrical grid.

While his broadcast power experiments made world news, his greatest project - one that later led to his infamous death ray experiments - was the broadcast tower in Colorado Springs. That tower was the precursor to his Wardenclyffe Tower project in Shoreham, Long Island, New York that was never fully completed.

In a letter to the New York Times dated April 1908 Tesla expanded upon his idea of destruction by electrical beams. He wrote, "When I spoke of future warfare I meant that it should be conducted by direct application of electrical waves without the use of aerial engines or other implements of destruction." Then he went on to add, "This is not a dream. Even now wireless power plants could be constructed by which any region of the globe might be rendered uninhabitable without subjecting the population of other parts to serious danger or inconvenience."

Tesla knew what he was talking about. He had constructed such towers and seen first-hand what they could do. They were capable of generating great destructive power arriving at the speed of light anywhere...

Read the rest of Terrence's article on Helium.com: History mystery: Tunguska explosion of 1908 - helium.com

This article was originally published by: helium.com

Terrence Aym is a Salem-News.com Contributor based in Chicago, who is well known nationally for his stirring reports on the top ranked site, helium.com. Born in Minnesota, Terrence Aym grew up in the Chicagoland suburbs. Having traveled to 40 of the 50 states and lived in 7 of them, Aym is no stranger to travel. He's also spent time in Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, Europe, Asia and Western Africa. An executive for many years with Wall Street broker-dealer firms, Aym has also had a life-long interest in science, technology, the arts, philosophy and history. If it's still possible to be a 'Renaissance man' in the 21st Century, Aym is working hard to be one.

Aym has several book projects in the works. Media sites that have recently featured Aym, and/or discussed his articles, include ABC News, TIME Magazine, Business Insider, Crunchgear.com, Discover, Dvice, Benzinga and more recently, his work has been showing up in South Africa and Russia.




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