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PARIS (AFP) - A hundred years ago this week, a gigantic explosion ripped open the dawn sky above the swampy taiga forest of western Siberia, leaving a scientific riddle that endures to this day. ADVERTISEMENT
A dazzling light pierced the heavens, preceding a shock wave with the power of a thousand atomic bombs which flattened 80 million trees in a swathe of more than 2,000 square kilometres (800 square miles).
Evenki nomads recounted how the blast tossed homes and animals into the air. In Irkutsk, 1,500 kilometres (950 miles) away, seismic sensors registered what was initially deemed to be an earthquake. The fireball was so great that a day later, Londoners could read their newspapers under the night sky.
Originally posted by NGC2736
The real question doesn't seem so much what entered Earth's atmosphere, but how often do such things happen?
" Lake Cheko does not have the typical round shape of an impact crater, and no extraterrestrial material has been found, which means "there's got to be a terrestrial explanation," Wolfgang Kundt, a physicist at Germany's Bonn University told the British weekly.
He believes the Tunguska Event was caused by a massive escape of 10 million tonnes of methane-rich gas deep within Earth's crust. Evidence of a similar apocalyptic release can be found on the Blake Ridge on the seabed off Norway, a "pockmark" of 700 sq. kms (280 sq. miles), Kundt said."
The explosion registered on seismic stations across Eurasia, measuring 5.0 on the Richter scale in some areas, and produced fluctuations in atmospheric pressure strong enough to be detected by the recently invented barographs in Britain. Over the next few weeks, night skies were aglow such that one could read in their light, sometimes called "bright nights." In the United States, the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and the Mount Wilson Observatory observed a decrease in atmospheric transparency that lasted for several months.
The curious effect of the Tunguska explosion on the trees near ground zero was replicated during atmospheric nuclear tests in the 1950s and 1960s. These effects are caused by the shock wave produced by large explosions. The trees directly below the explosion are stripped as the blast wave moves vertically downward, while trees further away are felled because the blast wave is travelling closer to the horizontal when it reaches them.
Soviet experiments performed in the mid-1960s, with model forests (made of matches) and small explosive charges slid downward on wires, produced butterfly-shaped blast patterns strikingly similar to the pattern found at the Tunguska site. The experiments suggested that the object had approached at an angle of roughly 30 degrees from the ground and 115 degrees from north and had exploded in mid-air.
There is another possible - if wildly improbable - cause of the mysterious event at Tunguska in 1908 (7 September, p 14). One of Nikola Tesla's great projects was the wireless transformation of energy over large distances. He believed that this could be harnessed in war to destroy incoming attacks from over 300 kilometres away.
Tesla built his "death ray" at Wardencliffe on Long Island, and it is a possible that he tested it one night in 1908. The story goes something like this. At the time, Robert Peary was trekking to the North Pole and Tesla asked him to look out for unusual activity. On the evening of 30 June 1908, Tesla aimed his death ray towards the Arctic and turned it on. Tesla then watched the newspapers and sent telegrams to Peary, but heard about nothing unusual in the Arctic.
However, he did hear about the unexplainable event in Tunguska, and was thankful no one was killed, as it was clear to him that his death ray had overshot. He then dismantled his machine, as he felt it was too dangerous to keep it. See www.parascope.com/en/1096/tesdeth.htm for the full story.