Little Bits of History

What Was That?

Posted in History by patriciahysell on June 30, 2010

Fallen trees after the Tunguska event

June 30, 1908: At 7:15 AM, a concussion over Siberia equivalent to a 10 – 15 megaton TNT blast, levels 60 million trees over 830 square miles or 2,150 square kilometers – an area slightly smaller that Jacksonville, Florida, or about the size of Greater London, England. The area affected was near the Tunguska River in what is today Krasnoyarsk Krai of Russia.

People in Tungus noted a column of blue tinged light that was almost as bright as the sun, moving across the sky. Ten minutes later, there were short bursts of sound that were reminiscent of artillery fire, that came in pulses spaced farther and father apart. The were tremors associated with the sounds, shock waves, that broke windows hundreds of miles from the epicenter.

Trees at the epicenter were destroyed. The next ring out showed trees scorched on the side facing the blast. Sheltered trees in valleys still stood. The outer limits of tree damage was 32 miles from the site of the blast. The pattern of destruction was shaped like a butterfly. Seismic stations across Eurasia noted the explosion, atmospheric pressure changes were strong enough to be measured in Britain. Even as far away as the US, night skies glowed. The glow is thought to have been caused by ice crystals trapped in the upper atmosphere. As light passed through the ice, it caused a glow similar to when the Space Shuttle re-enters the Earth’s atmosphere. All of this excitement failed to stir in depth study at the time.

If there were any early studies of the area, the results have been lost due to the upheaval of World War I and the Russian Revolution of 1917 and followed by the Russian Civil War. Studies of the area from the 1950s and 1960s found silicate and magnetite in the soil. Chemical analysis showed other metals found in meteorites. Today, the hypothesis is that a meteoroid exploded in mid air, which accounts for no crater at the site and still explains the extensive damage from the shock waves.

“A fact is a simple statement that everyone believes. It is innocent, unless found guilty. A hypothesis is a novel suggestion that no one wants to believe. It is guilty, until found effective.” – Edward Teller

“Science is facts; just as houses are made of stones, so is science made of facts; but a pile of stones is not a house and a collection of facts is not necessarily science.” – Henri Poincaré

“We need not destroy the past. It is gone.” – John Cage

“A history in which every particular incident may be true may on the whole be false.” – Thomas Babington Macaulay

“There is no idea, no fact, which can not be vulgarized and presented in a ludicrous light.” – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Also on this day, in 1859 Charles Blondin crossed the Niagara Falls on a tightrope.

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