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Tunguska event
Russia-CIA WFB Map--Tunguska.png
Location of the event in Siberia (modern map)
Event Explosion in forest area (10–15 Mtons TNT)
Time 30 June 1908
Place Podkamennaya Tunguska River in Siberia, Russian Empire
Effects Flattening 2,000 km2 (770 sq mi) of forest
Damage Mostly material damages to trees
Cause Probable air burst of small asteroid or comet
Coordinates 60°55′N 101°57′E / 60.917°N 101.950°E / 60.917; 101.950
Tunguska
Trees knocked over, photo taken by Lenoid Kulik, in 1927,almost 20 years after the event.

Tunguska event is the name for a very large mid-air explosion that occurred on 30 June 1908 in Siberia. Most eyewitnesses talk about one or more explosions that happened around 7:15 a.m. local time. The cause of these explosions is unknown, but a meteorite impact has been suggested as a likely cause. About 30 kilometres (19 mi) around the place where the event happened, trees were uprooted. In Wanwara, a small settlement, about 65 km (40 mi) away, windows and doors were smashed. It is estimated, that in an area of about 2,000 km2 (770 sq mi), the trees were uprooted. Over 500 km (311 mi) away, bright light was seen, and an earthquake was felt.

There are no reports of people who have died. This is attributed the fact that almost no people lived in the area, at the time. Depending on the source, there were one or two casualties.

Today, it is believed that the event happened about 7 to 15 km (4.3 to 9.3 mi) above ground, at 0:14 UTC (7:14 a.m. local time).

Energy involved

What happened is called air burst today. At the time, the energy involved was estimated to be between 10 and 30 megatons of TNT, depending on the height in which the air burst happened. Simulations that have been done with modern computers have found that the energy involved was probably between 3 and 5 megatons of TNT. Taking 15 megatons, this would mean that the energy involved was 1.000 times that of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, in 1945. The shock wave is considered to be that of an earthquake with a magnitude of 5.0 on the Richter scale. For these reasons, the Tunguska event is considered the largest impact event on Earth in recorded history.

Expeditions to the area

1958 CPA 2196
Russian postage stamp, of 1958, issued 50 years after the event, in honor of Kulik.

At first, there was no interest in the event. Over a decade after the event, Leonid Kulik, a Russian mineralogist led an expedition to the area. In his expedition of 1921 and 1922, he only got to Kansk, which is 600 km (373 mi) away from the "epicenter" of the event. In 1927, Kulik reached the region where the event happened, in 1938 he ordered aerial photos be taken.

Kulik's expedition is the first recorded expedition to the area. Since then, there were many expeditions; over 1,000 articles have been published on the event; most of them are in Russian language.

There were two other expeditions to the area: one in 1958, the other in 1963.

Theories

Today, there is no definite explanation for what caused the explosions, or for what happened. There are different theories, though.

Meteorite explosion

A meteorite hit the area. The most probable is an asteroid or comet of low density, and a diameter of between 30 metres (98 ft) and 80 metres (260 ft). The object exploded in a height of 7 to 14 km above ground; for this reason there is no impact crater. The problem with this theory is that meteorites of this type usually do not reach low levels of the atmosphere. Meteoroids, which contain more iron have a higher chance of reaching low levels of the atmosphere, but they do not cause such devastating explosions.

Lake Cheko

Lake Cheko is a small freshwater lake, about 8 kilometres (5.0 mi) from the center of the event. The lake does not show on maps of the area which are older than about 1928. Before 1908, it seems to be unknown. The lake is rectangular; it is 708 metres long, 364 m wide, and about 50 m deep. In 1999, Luca Gasperini did a study on the sediments in the lake, and found that the lake predates the event of 1908.. In 2007, National Geographic cites him as he states that it is possible the lake formed as an impact crater.

Geophysical theories: Volcanic eruption

The other theory is that the event has a geophysical cause: About 10 million ton of natural gas exploding would have the effect that was observed. The problem with this theory is that eyewitnesses spoke of a very bright light that could be seen from very far away. A natural gas explosion does not produce a bright light.

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