"I was sitting on the porch of the house at the trading station, looking north. Suddenly, in the north... the sky was split in two, and high above the forest the whole northern part of the sky appeared covered with fire. I felt a great heat, as if my shirt had caught fire. At that moment, there was a bang in the sky, and a mighty crash. I was thrown twenty feet from the porch. The earth trembled."
Dialogue from some asteroid impact movie? An excerpt from a science fiction novel? A witness to the test of a nuclear explosion? The witness is real, but the event was not the test of an atomic or nuclear device. And it certainly wasn't fiction.
This incredible event, related by this Russian witness, took place on the morning of June 30, 1908 in a remote area of Siberia called Tunguska. And exactly what happened there is still unknown. There are several theories as to what caused the great explosion in the sparsely populated forest at 62 degrees north latitude, but there is no definitive proof for any of them. And now, 103 years later, the debate about the Tunguska event continues.
Whatever happened, the resulting devastation was enormous. A fireball as bright as the sun was seen streaking across the sky. Observers 300 miles away heard deafening bangs. Trees were flattened in a radial pattern over an area of 850 square miles. Seismic vibrations were recorded by instruments as far away as 600 miles. Fires burned for weeks. Forty miles from ground zero, people were thrown to the ground and knocked unconscious. One man was hurled into a tree and killed. Scientists examining the area calculated that the explosion was equivalent to 40 megatons of TNT - 1,000 times the force of the atomic bomb released on Hiroshima in 1945. Yet there was no crater or any other clear evidence for what exploded.
Other, more enigmatic effects were recorded:
* disturbances in the Earth's magnetic field
* a local geomagnetic storm
* a reversal of soil magnetization
* an electromagnetic pulse, similar to what would be created by a nuclear explosion
* aurora displays before and after the event
* unusually bright nights seen before and after the event
* genetic mutations in plants and animals
* accelerated growth of plants afterward
* radiation-like burns and deaths of exposed people.
SO WHAT HAPPENED?
The theories put forth to account for the Tunguska event range from the scientifically plausible to the ridiculous to the intriguing. They included:
* A fragmentary asteroid or meteorite that exploded in the atmosphere.
* The nucleus of a comet that likewise exploded in the atmosphere.
* An unusual tectonic event.
* Methane gas explosion.
* A tiny black hole that entered the Earth's atmosphere from outer space and imploded.
* A chunk of antimatter that reacted with the matter of our planet.
* A crashed UFO, the propulsion drive of which exploded.
* A deliberate attack by extraterrestrials.
* An errant, 2,000-year-old Japanese nuclear spacecraft returning home... but missing the runway
* The result of a test of Nikola Tesla's wireless power transmitter.
Again, there's no definitive proof for any of these ideas, but let's consider each.
Asteroid - This and the comet theory are favored by scientists, of course - mainly because they can't conceive of any other explanation. I'd have to agree that it's the most likely. But because there is no crater and little debris, there's only circumstantial evidence. Numerous expeditions to the area have found little or no evidence for an asteroid.
Before Tunguska, scientists rarely considered that an asteroid would explode in the atmosphere before striking the ground. Yet, because there is no crater, they reason, that must be what happened. So where are all the fragments of the asteroid that they estimate must have weighed some 100,000 tons? Vaporized, they say - pulverized into dust and tiny gravel. The only fragments found thus far have been tiny glass nodules embedded in the fallen trees, which are consistent in makeup with stony asteroid fragments that have been super-heated.
Comet - This is another prevailing theory today - that it was a 100,000-ton fragment of Encke's Comet. Since there is little debris, the explosion might be consistent with a comet, which generally is a loose mixture of stone and ice. Upon explosion, very little debris would remain as evidence. Ironically, it is the very lack of evidence that boosts the credibility of the comet theory.
An unusual tectonic event - Andrei Yu. Ol'khovatov, a Russian scientist, has recently come up with the interesting, plausible theory that Tunguska was "a geophysical event, associated with tectonic processes" - a powerful earthquake, the enormous pressures of which also resulted in the recorded atmospheric effects.
Methane gas explosion - This theory is being championed by Wolfgang Kundt, a physicist at Bonn University in Germany. He suggests that as much as 10 million tons of methane gas from deep within the planet's crust could have erupted in a terrific explosion. Kundt believes there is evidence of a similar eruption on the Blake Ridge on the seabed off Norway.
Black hole - This idea isn't taken very seriously by mainstream scientists, simply because it's not known whether such small black holes even exist. And if they did, what the result would be upon one entering our atmosphere is completely unknown.
Antimatter - This idea is also readily dismissed, since it is unlikely that antimatter would be able to transverse space and reach our planet without already encountering some matter and annihilating.
Crashed UFO - There's no evidence whatever of this idea, of course. No fragments of the spacecraft or piece of an alien's intergalactic map. If it were the explosion of the UFO's propulsion system - nuclear or whatever - it might have vaporized all traces of the ship, but come on....
Extraterrestrial attack - If they were going to attack, why would they choose an unpopulated region, unless their intelligence was bad? Or unless it was meant as just a warning. And it it was just a warning, where was the follow-up or contact?
2,000-year-old Japanese nuclear spacecraft - Too silly to even consider.
Nikola Tesla's experiment - Granted, this idea is far more unlikely than an asteroid or comet strike, but I find it quite a bit more interesting. A lot of myth has grown around the mysterious, dark and temperamental figure of Tesla. Although known as the discoverer of the principals of alternating current and other inventions, he is also credited in some quarters with far more notorious inventions, including a death ray. Some say the controversial HAARP array in Alaska is a continuation of Tesla's experiments that used electricity to create super weapons. The Tunguska event, they say, was the result of a test of such a weapon - a test that didn't go exactly as planned.
THE TESLA CONNECTION
Oliver Nichelson has a very interesting web site entitled, "Tesla's Wireless Power Transmitter and the Tunguska Explosion of 1908"that advocates this theory, with some very compelling information about the background and secret experiments of the Serbian-born American inventor. "Tesla's writings have many references to the use of his wireless power transmission technology as a directed energy weapon," says Nichelson. "The Tunguska explosion of 1908 may have been a test firing of Tesla's energy weapon."
Nichelson details many of the experiments with electricity conducted by Tesla in many areas of the United States. He relates one such experiment at his Colorado Springs laboratory where he erected a 200-foot pole topped by a large copper sphere that discharged lighting bolts up to 135 feet long. "People along the streets were amazed to see sparks jumping between their feet and the ground," Nichelson writes. "Flames of electricity would spring from a tap when anyone turned them on for a drink of water. Light bulbs within 100 feet of the experimental tower glowed when they were turned off."
Nichelson then chronicles the evolution of Tesla's method of the wireless transmission of electrical energy, and how it led up to the secret test in 1908. Apparently, Tesla had proved that directed electrical energy could be used as a beneficial or destructive force. "Beset by financial problems and spurned by the scientific establishment, Tesla was in a desperate situation by mid-decade... and, according to Tesla's biographers, he suffered an emotional collapse. In order to make a final effort to have his grand scheme recognized, he may have tried one high-power test of his transmitter to show off its destructive potential. This would have been in 1908."
In fact, perhaps Tesla was confessing in 1915 when he wrote: "It is perfectly practical to transmit electrical energy without wires and produce destructive effects at a distance. I have already constructed a wireless transmitter which makes this possible. But when unavoidable [it] may be used to destroy property and life. The art is already so far developed that the great destructive effects can be produced at any point on the globe, defined beforehand with great accuracy."
The Tesla experiment might also account for the enigmatic aspects of the Tunguska event, according to Nichelson: the lack of a crater; the disturbances in the planet's magnetic field; the odd glow in the sky seen before and after the event; the radiation-like burns; and the electromagnetic pulse.
The test, however, may not have been a complete success, says Nichelson. Tesla may have been aiming for the completely uninhabited region of the north pole. He may have overshot his target.
In 2008, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the event, Russian scientists gathered in Moscow on June 26-28. Using the latest in computer technology and other methods, they hoped to get a clearer understanding of what really happened that day.
Why is it important to study Tunguska? Because it may have been the most recent occurrence of a major meteor or comet impact on our planet. If it had struck over a major city instead of an isolated forest, hundreds of thousands of people would have been killed. For example, if the explosion had happened to strike the planet just 4 hours and 47 minutes later (because of the Earth's rotation), it would have wiped out St. Petersburg, which was the Russian capital at that time.
Tunguska serves as a grim reminder that the threat from outer space is always with us.