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Mystery still surrounds 1908 Tunguska event

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Teri Charboneau
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« on: July 12, 2016, 01:53:55 am »

Political strife in the country was growing – World War One and the Russian Revolution were just a few years away. "There were only some publications in local papers, not even in St Petersburg or Moscow," she says.

It was only a few decades later, in 1927, that a Russian team led by Leonid Kulik finally made a trip to the area. He had stumbled across a description of the event six years earlier and convinced Russian authorities that a trip would be worthwhile. When he got there, the damage was still immediately apparent, almost 20 years after the blast.

He found a large area of flattened trees, spreading out about 31 miles (50km) wide in a strange butterfly shape. He proposed that an extraterrestrial meteor had exploded in the atmosphere.

It puzzled him that there was no impact crater, or in fact, any meteoric remnants at all. To explain this, he suggested that the swampy ground was too soft to preserve whatever hit it and that any debris from the collision had been buried.

Kulik still hoped that he could uncover the remains, as he wrote in his 1938 conclusions. "We should expect to encounter, at a depth of hardly less than 25 metres, crushed masses of this nickeliferous iron, individual pieces of which may have a weight of one or two hundred metric tons."

    Some suggested the Tunguska event could have been the result of matter and antimatter colliding

Russian researchers later said that it was a comet, not a meteor that caused the damage. Comets are largely made up of ice – not rock, like meteorites – so the absence of alien rock fragments would make more sense this way. The ice would have started to evaporate as it entered Earth's atmosphere, and continue to do so as it hit the ground.

But that was not the end of the debate. Because the exact identity of the explosion was unclear, strange alternative theories soon started to appear.

Some suggested the Tunguska event could have been the result of matter and antimatter colliding. When this happens, the particles annihilate and emit intense bursts of energy.

Another proposal was that a nuclear explosion caused the blast. An even more outlandish suggestion was that an alien spaceship crashed at the site on its search for the fresh water of Lake Baikal.

As you might expect, none of these theories stuck. Then, in a 1958 expedition to the site, researchers discovered tiny remnants of silicate and magnetite in the soil.

Further analysis showed they were high in nickel, a known characteristic of meteoric rock. The meteor explanation looked correct after all – and K. Florensky, author of a 1963 report on the event, was keen to put the more fantastical theories to rest:
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