Sunday, June 30, 2013

History reruns

June 30, 1908.

One of the most remarkable events in history happened on this date. And it's mostly forgotten.

At 7:14 a.m. a MASSIVE explosion occurred near the Tunguska river in Russia. I'm not exaggerating. The force was somewhere between 5-30 megatons. Think about that: an explosion between 150 to 1000 TIMES the power of the Hiroshima nuclear bomb. And it happened 37 years before the nuclear age began.

And, purely by chance, it happened in a fairly uninhabited part of the Earth.

To this day its exact cause is unknown, and it's simply called "The Tunguska Event." It's generally believed to have been a meteorite or comet that exploded before hitting the ground.

The shock wave it sent through the ground was a 5.0 on the Richter scale. Every tree in an 8 km (5 mile) radius from the center was killed, and the force of the explosion covered a total of 830 square miles (2,130 square km). An estimated 80 million trees were knocked over by the force- all of them pointing away from the center. A few were left standing, scorched black, with all their branches stripped off. People were knocked off their feet, and windows shattered, hundreds of miles away. The pressure wave was measured as far away as England. For the next several months there was a change in the density of the planet's upper atmosphere.

An eyewitness 40 miles south of the explosion, reported that "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 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 crops. Later we saw that many windows were shattered, and in the barn the iron lock had snapped."

There have been other impacts in recorded history, but none this powerful. And, over 100 years later, the scars are still there.

1921: 13 years after the event.

2008: 100 years after the event.

And, just remember: we live in a solar system full of flying objects.


Jodi said...

I rank this up with Krakatoa as one of the most spectacular things to happen to the earth that we know about. There was a study just last week concluding that Tunguska was caused by a meteorite exploding above the treeline. Such fascinating stuff!

Anonymous said...

Ars Technica also ran an article on this -- apparently the meteorite origin has since been essentially confirmed:

Ms. Donna said...

Quick, where's my umbrella?!

Seriously, I do wish we would spend more $ on space research. Not only to find ways of moving the space junk away from us (I like the atmosphere just the way it is, thank you.) but to find resources and I don't know, just expand what we know about stuff around us.

minnmass said...

Ars Technica recently did a piece on the Tunguska Event; scientists have recently announced findings that it was, in fact, a meteorite:

Leslie said...

So what's the plan oh great and powerful yak herder? Oh wait, we're not trying to find one cause we're busy arguing over whether we need yet more border guards? Bang head here!

Jedi Master Ivyan said...


Look up the Tambora eruption sometime. That was the "year without a summer" because of all the particulates ejected into the atmosphere. Krakatoa gets more press, but Tambora was bigger by an order of magnitude.

Tunguska is an awful thing to contemplate. At least with a volcano, you have some warning.

Ole Phat Stu said...

Back in 1984 I wrote a science fiction short story about Tunguska.
If you can read German, you can read it online at

Stu Savory

Unknown said...

Hi sorry dr grumpy great post but I am hijacking your comments for a plea. I used to read Crass Pollination and Tales From Serenity Now and they are both closed! Invite only! I totally understand but I never commented and loved the posts and read ALL the old posts when I found them If anyone out there knows how I can get in touch please let me know?? I am going down my blog roll asking! thanks!

Anonymous said...

there is conjecture that Nikola Tesla was behind it. But if so, he never took credit/blame for it.

Mrs J said...

Jodi, Krakatoa came to my mind too but now I'm going to look up the Tambora eruption. I so enjoy your history posts Dr Grumpy, I learn so much from you and the commenters.

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