It was an event that had the potential to kill millions and devastate an area the size of Rhode Island. A mysterious explosion in the Siberian wilderness that was a lucky escape for humanity, the blast unleashed a force that destroyed hundreds of miles of forest with the power of 185 Hiroshimas. While an asteroid has been blamed, there is no actual scientific consensus over what caused the destruction at Tunguska. It is a mystery that has stood for over a hundred years.
On June 30 1908, Evenki natives in the hills around Lake Baikal, Russia, watched in awe as a column of blueish white light lit up the sky. Nearly as bright as the Sun itself, the column was moving across the sky and on an impact trajectory. A little over ten minutes later there was an immense flash, and the roar of an explosion was heard, the shockwave being felt hundreds of miles away, with windows broken and people thrown off their feet.
“Peasants saw to the northwest, rather high above the horizon, some strangely bright (impossible to look at) bluish-white heavenly body, which for 10 minutes moved downwards. The body appeared as a “pipe”, i.e., a cylinder. The sky was cloudless, only a small dark cloud was observed in the general direction of the bright body. It was hot and dry. As the body neared the ground (forest), the bright body seemed to smudge, and then turned into a giant billow of black smoke, and a loud knocking (not thunder) was heard as if large stones were falling, or artillery was fired. All buildings shook. At the same time, the cloud began emitting flames of uncertain shapes. All villagers were stricken with panic and took to the streets, women cried, thinking it was the end of the world.”
Sibir, July 2, 1908
Such was the force of the blast that airwaves from the detonation were felt as far away as Washington DC and the UK. Some places were estimated to have received a wave the equivalent to an earthquake measuring 5.0 on the Richter scale. For days afterwards, the night sky across Europe and Asia was bright, photographs being taken in times of usual darkness and people were said to be able to read newspapers with ease. The Mount Wilson observatory noted that…