At 7:17AM ON 30th June 1908 there was a massive explosion in the atmo?sphere five miles above Siberia. It left the forest underneath burnt and charred, and pushed trees over in a 20-mile radius. It threw people to the floor and broke windowpanes 50 miles away. One hundred miles away, witnesses reported seeing the explosion create an enormous black cloud of ash which was accompanied by a terrific roar. This deafening noise was even heard 300 miles away, and all across the world scientific equipment recorded strange occurrences in northern Russia. To this day, bizarre growth patterns in plant and animal life can be found in the area. But what exactly happened in Tunguska that day?
The nearest witnesses to the explosion were reindeer herders 25 miles from the blast?s epicentre. They were sleeping in their tents when the massive force blew them into the air. One man was reported to have died, and the others lost consciousness. When they came round, they saw the forest around them devastated and smouldering. Other witnesses at a trading post in Vanavara 50 miles south of the explosion, reported seeing the sky split in two, with the northern part covered in flames. A blast that washed over them was so hot it felt as if their clothes were on fire. It threw them 20 feet in the air, and when they regained their senses, a terrible crashing bang was followed by a noise which sounded like a downpour of small stones hitting the ground.
More distant witnesses had seen the phenomenon?s final impressive act approaching. Residents in remote towns had seen a great ?ball of fire? with an iridescent tail streaking across the morning sky. Many thought it was the beginning of the great final apocalypse. The local newspaper, the Sibir, reported what was seen from the village of Nizhne-Karelinsk, 200 miles from the explosion:
The peasants saw a body shining brightly
? with a bluish white light. It moved vertically downwards for about ten minutes. The body was in the form of a ?pipe?. The sky was cloudless, except that low down on the horizon in the direction in which this glowing body was observed, a small dark cloud was noticed. It was hot and dry and when the shining body approached the ground it seemed to be pulverised: in its place a huge cloud of black smoke was formed and a loud crash, not like thunder, but as if from the fall of large stones, or from gunfire, was heard. All the buildings shook and at the same time, a forked tongue of flame broke through the cloud. The old women wept, everyone thought that the end of the world was approaching.
The Russian authorities were not able to send anyone to investigate the phenomenon until March 1927, when Leonid Kulik was chosen by the Soviet Academy of Sciences to find out what had happened. Kulik arrived in the area and noticed the lines of trees all knocked down radiating from a distant point. He took photographs and studied the land, but never found any fragments or meteorite samples. It seemed that whatever had caused the huge heavenly event had vaporised itself. The absence of physical remains left the Russians perplexed. They felt that only a massive rock from outer space could have caused those effects.
Following the dropping of atomic bombs on Japan during the Second World War, photographs comparing the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the area near the epicentre of the Tunguska explosion displayed many similarities. A revision of eye-witness accounts also increased the possibility of the Russian phenomenon being a nuclear explosion. However, no nuclear weapons existed in 1908, so some people speculated the blast was caused by an alien space craft crashing to Earth.
Such an idea is now largely scoffed at, and has been replaced with theories of anti?matter or a black hole imploding above Siberia. Our improved scientific knowledge has been able to deduce that the explosion was the equivalent of a 40-megaton nuclear weapon. But Man?s ideas about what caused this amazing event, whether it involves UFOs or other intergalactic oddities, requires an understanding of a subject that we still have not quite grasped.