Tunguska Mystery: Was the Earth hit by a Black Hole or an Icy Comet?

A little over 7 am in the morning of June 30, 1908 in Central Siberia,Tunguska_Fireball a giant fireball was spotted circling the sky. A bluish light as bright as the Sun was seen approaching the village of Tunguska. A massive explosion was heard about 10 minutes later leveling some 2150 square kilometers of forest and thousands of trees were burned down in a flash fire that followed.

The impact was so strong that there were fine dust particles in the atmosphere everywhere resulting in scattered light for over 2 days. The scattered light was seen even in London over 10,000 kms away from the impact site. The resultant shock wave of the impact knocked people off their feet & broke windows hundreds of kilometers away.

The phenomenon of glowing clouds with silver linings is not just a myth but was actually spotted in Europe in the next few days.  Other strange phenomena included colorful sunsets, strange luminescence in the night, etc.

The Russian government under the Czars was already in great turmoil; they were hardly concerned about investigating this event and no heed was paid to the same. World War I, the Russian Revolution of 1917 & the Russian Civil War followed in the next few years and all the records of this impact were probably lost in these chaotic years. The first theory about what happened at Tunguska had to wait for 19 years.

IN 1927, when Russian mineralogist Leonid Kulik carried out the first expedition to study the site,

Forest of Tunguska post the explosion. Picture taken in 1927
Forest of Tunguska post the explosion. Picture taken in 1927

surprisingly he found no crater anywhere close to the impact site. Instead, all that remained of the event was trees scorched & devoid of branches, but still standing upright. Much later in the 1960s it was established that the area of the levelled forest occupied an area of about 2150 square kilometers and it’s shape resembling a giant spread-eagled butterfly.

However, due to the absence of any kind of extra-terrestrial material at the site, we only have theories explaining this event. After 107 years, the Tunguska event still remains a mystery with various postulates suggested by different people.

Antimatter & Black Hole theory:

Some scientists suggest the impact was a result of antimatter that was hurled from the outer space and got annihilated upon contact with the matter of the Earth and then disappeared in a flash of gamma rays. However, the site does not have any signs of radioactivity. Others suggest that we were hit by a black hole that penetrated the Earth’s surface once it came in contact and drifted out from the other side of the Earth. However, atmospheric shock waves registered no hint of something booming out from around the North Atlantic.

Extraterrestrial spaceship or Extraterrestrial nuclear war:

A little less serious theory of extraterrestrial spaceship in desperate mechanical trouble that had to land in a remote land of an obscure planet has also been suggested. However, there are no signs of such a ship having landed. Other similar theory suggests of a nuclear explosion from extraterrestrial origins.

Buried meteor:

Kulik after his research suggested a theory claiming the site of having hit by an extraterrestrial solid which was later buried within the swampy ground as it was too soft to preserve the typical morphology of an impact crater.

Icy Comet:

Contrary to Kulik’s hypothesis, other scientists developed a different theory of the site having hit by a comet and not a meteorite. As comets are made of ice, it would have been completely vaporized after the event leaving no traces behind.

Verneshots:

Some German astrophysicists proposed a hypothesis of underground magma/gas mixture phenomena and that the cause of the event came not from the outer space but from within the Earth. As per this theory, due to magmatic intrusions, gases inside the crust built up a pressure until the cover was shattered to pieces and rose high into the atmosphere and these hot gases ultimately caused a visible explosion.

Not a single of all these proposed ideas is backed by strong evidence. The most mysterious fact here is that there was a ferocious forest fire, an unprecedented shock wave & a tremendous explosion but there still is no impact crater at the site. The best explanation is that a piece of comet hit the Earth. Given that such impacts would leave no sign behind, could we mistake such an impact in today’s world for a nuclear explosion triggered by an enemy nation?

Tunguska_Epicenter
Ground Zero of the Tunguska explosion site as shown in the map

“The Tunguska Event was probably caused by an icy cometary fragment about a hundred meters across – the size of a football field – weighing a million tons, moving at about 30 kilometers per second, 70,000 miles per hour. If such an impact occurred today it might be mistaken, especially in the panic of the moment, for a nuclear explosion. The cometary impact and fireball would simulate all effects of a one-megaton nuclear burst, including the mushroom cloud, with two exceptions: there would be no gamma radiation or radioactive fallout. Could a rare but natural event, the impact of a sizable cometary fragment, trigger a nuclear war?” – Carl Sagan

Image Sources: [1] [2] [3]

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