The mystery of the century: what was the Tunguska meteorite

110 years ago in Siberia fell the famous Tunguska meteorite. Why is it called the “Tunguska phenomenon”, what eyewitnesses saw, how the research was conducted and how it affected the mass culture?

The mysterious explosion that occurred in Siberia, in the area of ​​the Podkamennaya Tunguska River on the morning of June 30, 1908, exactly 110 years ago, continues to excite the minds of the researchers. This event is noteworthy in that it is considered the largest fall of the celestial body to the Earth in modern history. It is also fascinating with its mysteriousness – after all, reliable large fragments of the “meteorite” have not been found, despite long searches and many expeditions.

This gave rise to an endless stream of versions and straightforward competitions on the topic of how to name the phenomenon itself,

traditional Tunguska meteorite, many prefer the Tunguska Space Body or even the Tunguska Phenomenon.

Certainly, people were lucky that the fall of the cosmic body happened in a deserted area. In densely populated areas, many victims could not be avoided, after all, according to the calculations of specialists, the explosion capacity corresponded to the most powerful of the blown-up hydrogen bombs, and the affected territory is comparable to the size of modern Moscow.

A much more modest in size Chelyabinsk meteorite, which fell on February 15, 2013, was famous not only for having left numerous records on DVRs, but also in hundreds or thousands of victims, broken windows and other disruptions.

Why, first of all, do they speak of the cosmic origin of the phenomenon? First of all, due to reliable observations of the fall of a bright car, moving in the server direction, resulting in a powerful explosion. The blast wave was recorded around the world, including in the Western Hemisphere, a seismic wave and a magnetic storm were also recorded. A few days after this, in the vast territory, intense glow of the sky and glowing clouds were observed.

The first expeditions to that hard-to-reach district and a survey of real witnesses were not organized immediately.

The Soviet scientist Leonid Kulik became a great enthusiast of the study of the Tunguska phenomenon. In 1927-1939, he organized and headed several expeditions, the main purpose of which was to search for the remains of the “meteorite”. However, the first expedition, organized by him with the support of the academicians Vernadsky and Fersman as far back as 1921, was limited to the collected eyewitness accounts, which made it possible to clarify the very place of the fall.

And the planned expedition of 1941 did not take place because of the beginning of the Great Patriotic War. Kulik then volunteered for the national militia, was wounded, wounded in German captivity and died in a Nazi camp in a typhoid barrack.

Exactly Kulik’s expeditions made it possible to establish that in the place of the expected fall of the meteorite over a large area (about 2000 km²) the forest fell, and at the epicenter the trees remained standing, devoid of branches and bark. However, with the search for the expected crater, a hitch occurred, eventually spreading to one of the “main scientific riddles of the century”. For a while Kulik assumed that the crater concealed the swamp, but even then it became clear that the destruction of the main body of the meteorite occurred in the air over the taiga, at a height of five or ten kilometers.

The collected testimonies of eyewitnesses are interesting. Semen Semenov, a resident of the Vanavara factory (70 km to the southeast of the epicenter of the explosion), described this event as follows: “… suddenly the sky split into two in the north, and in it, broadly and high above the forest, a fire appeared that swept the entire northern part of the sky .

At that moment I felt so hot, like a shirt on me.

I wanted to tear myself up and throw off my shirt, but the sky slammed shut and I heard a strong blow. I was thrown off the porch by three. After the blow came a knock, as if stones were falling from the sky or shooting from cannon, the earth was trembling, and when I lay on the ground, I pressed my head, fearing that the stones would not break my head. At that moment, when the sky opened, a hot wind blew from the north, like a cannon that left traces on the ground in the form of paths. Then it turned out that many windows were knocked out in the windows, and an iron bookmark for the lock of the door had broken at the barn. ”

Even closer to the epicenter were the brothers Evenki Chuchanchi and Chekarena Shanyagir (their tent was 30 km to the southeast): “We heard a whistle and sensed a strong wind. Tchekaren still shouted to me: “Do you hear how many gogol fly or tiny?”. We were still in the plague and we could not see what was happening in the forest … There was a noise behind the plague, it was audible as the woods fell. We got out with Chekaren from bags and already wanted to jump out of the plague, but suddenly thunder struck very hard. It was the first blow. The earth began to twitch and swing, a strong wind hit our plague and knocked it down.

Then I saw a terrible miracle: the woods fall, the needles burn on them, the sushny on the ground burns, the moss of deer burns.

Smoke all around, eyes hurt, hot, very hot, you can burn. Suddenly, over the mountain, where the forest had already fallen, it became very light, and how would you say that the second sun appeared, the Russians would say: “Suddenly suddenly flashed”, my eyes hurt and I even closed them. It looked like what the Russians call a “lightning”. And immediately there was an agdyllian, a strong thunder. It was the second blow. The morning was sunny, the clouds were not there, our sun was shining brightly, as always, and then a second sun appeared! ”

The most authoritative theories of the Tunguska phenomenon converge on the fact that above Podkamennaya Tunguska in the air, a certain large body, which came to us from outer space, exploded. Only the descriptions of its properties, origin, and model vary (at what angle it was included). It could be a fragment of an asteroid or a comet, but it could be made of ice or stones, but most likely it’s about something nonmonolithic, porous, like pumice, otherwise large debris would have already been found.

Comet hypothesis arose in the 1930s, and even now specialists, including NASA, agree that the Tunguska meteorite consisted mainly of ice. This is evidenced by the rainbow bands that followed this body (as described by some eyewitnesses), and the noctilucent clouds observed 24 hours after the fall. The same opinion is shared by most Russian researchers. This hypothesis is sufficiently reliably confirmed by numerical calculations that are carried out repeatedly.

Of course, the meteorite substance did not consist of one pure ice, and something after the explosion fell to the ground, but most of the original material was still distributed in the atmosphere or dispersed over a vast territory. A similar decay scheme explains the presence of two successive shock waves, which the witnesses of the explosion spoke of.

Even by the expedition of the Kulik, microscopic silicate and magnetite balls were found at the drop site and an increased content of elements indicating the possible cosmic origin of the precipitated material was recorded. In 2013, Planetary and Space Science reported that in microscopic samples discovered by Nikolai Kovalykh in 1978 in the Podkamennaya Tunguska area, the presence of forms of carbon formed at high pressure and associated with the fall of extraterrestrial bodies – lonsdaleite, as well as troilite ( iron sulphide), taenite, and others.

Some noise arose in connection with the history of “Italians in Russia” who explored Lake Cheko eleven years ago. This 500-meter lake, located 8 km to the north of the alleged epicenter of the explosion in an inaccessible uninhabited area, it has a rather strange and rounded shape. It was already studied in the 1960s, but then it did not cause much interest. Until now, it is not known exactly whether Lake Cheko existed until 1908 (the presence of the lake was not noted on any map of that time).

Previously it was believed that the Cheko is either of karst origin, or an ancient volcanic crater, or created by the Kimchu River flowing into it.

The Italians, led by the geologist Luka Gasperini from the Institute of Marine Geology in Bologna, analyzing the sedimentary rocks, said that the age of the lake is about one century, that is, roughly the time of the fall of the Tunguska meteorite.

Gasperini argues that the unusual form of the lake is the result of a blow to the ground of a large fragment thrown aside by the explosion of the Tunguska meteorite and at an angle to the plowed soil, which allowed the fragment to create a pit of the corresponding shape.

“We assume that the 10-meter 1500-ton fragment escaped destruction during the explosion and continued to fly in the original direction,” Gasperini says. – It moved relatively slowly, at a speed of about 1 km / s. The lake is located on the probable path of the cosmic body. This fragment plunged into a soft swampy ground and melted the permafrost layer, releasing a certain amount of carbon dioxide, water vapor and methane, which expanded the original gap, giving the lake a form that was not quite characteristic of a crater of impact origin. Our hypothesis is the only reasonable explanation of the funnel-shaped form of the bottom of Lake Cheko. ”

The work of the Italian researchers has caused great resonance in the scientific community, many have reacted to it skeptically, but it still does not change anything in the matter of the origin of the bulk of the cosmic body that exploded elsewhere. Yes, and Gasperini himself states that their hypothesis is compatible with almost any previous version: “If the object was an asteroid, then the surviving fragment can be buried under the lake. And if it was a comet, its chemical “signature” should be found in the deepest layers of deposits. ”

Anyway, the Tunguska meteorite and its next anniversary is an event of universal importance, which was prepared not only in Russia.

However, the Tunguska meteorite not only contributes to the emergence of a vivid interest in science among the broad masses and serves as a formidable reminder of the dangers threatening us from outer space. He became a kind of visiting card for all sorts of charlatans from science, ready to exploit interest in the puzzle and produce irresponsible theories. “Tunguska Event” tried to connect with the ball lightning, a sudden eruption of the volcano induced earthquake, explosion of methane bubble invasion antimatter, microscopic black holes, as well as accident spaceship alien, shot from the laser gun at the Earth and the experiments of the American physicist Tesla.

At one time, every self-respecting science fiction writer considered it his direct duty to propose his own hypothesis of the origin of the Tunguska phenomenon, and even not one. Alexander Kazantsev was the first to connect the explosion with the unsuccessful landing of a spacecraft. Simon Slepynin, Stanislaw Lem, Kir Bulychev, Henry Viola and Valentina Zhuravleva and many others have exploited the same theme, and the Strugatsky brothers in the story “Monday begins on Saturday” went further, actually offering a parody of the “explosion” Kazantsev.

In their “kontramotnoy” treatment on an alien ship as time went backwards, and even discretely, ie after midnight advancing our previous day. Therefore, the aliens who collided with the Earth did not understand anything, did not find traces of the catastrophe and went away home. With a light hand Strugatsky near Stony Tunguska also began to blow, and other experimental time machine, for example in the works of fiction writer McGee ( “Girl, which did not happen”) and the movie “Draft” is based on Sergei Lukyanenko’s eponymous product.

At some point, the magazine “Ural pathfinder” refused even to take stories with the remembrance of “Tunguska event”, but it certainly has not helped, and these stories continue to be fruitful, as, however, and irresponsible “bold scientific” theories.

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