I’ve always been intrigued by the Tunguska event. For those of you not in the know (i.e. anyone who isn’t a big ol’ geek like me), the Tunguska event was huge explosion on 30 June 1908 (Western calendar) in the skies just above the Stony Tunguska River, in Yeniseysk Governorate (now Krasnoyarsk Krai) Russia. We’re talking a massive kerplooie of an explosion. It flattened 2000 square kilometers of forest, knocking over the hardy Serbian pine trees like the littlest pig’s straw house.
The trees were plowed down like this spanning outward from the center of the blast for an area the size of modern Washington, DC.
Modern scientists reckon it was about the same force as the atomic bomb the USA dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. However, in what can be rightfully considered a miracle, the remoteness of the region meant that no one got killed.
So what made the awesome blast? Other than some speculation it was aliens, scientists agree that it was a superbolide, or a huge fireball caused by the sudden explosive breakup of an asteroid or meteor in the atmosphere relatively close to the earth’s surface. According to a man interviewed by Leonid Kulik‘s expedition to the region in 1930:
At breakfast time I was sitting by the house at Vanavara Trading Post [65 kilometres/40 miles south of the explosion], facing north. [..] I suddenly saw that directly to the north, over Onkoul’s Tunguska Road, the sky split in two and fire appeared high and wide over the forest [as Semenov showed, about 50 degrees up—expedition note]. The split in the sky grew larger, and the entire northern side was covered with fire. At that moment I became so hot that I couldn’t bear it, as if my shirt was on fire; from the northern side, where the fire was, came strong heat. I wanted to tear off my shirt and throw it down, but then the sky shut closed, and a strong thump sounded, and I was thrown a few metres. I lost my senses for a moment, but then my wife ran out and led me to the house. After that such noise came, as if rocks were falling or cannons were firing, the earth shook, and when I was on the ground, I pressed my head down, fearing rocks would smash it. When the sky opened up, hot wind raced between the houses, like from cannons, which left traces in the ground like pathways, and it damaged some crops. Later we saw that many windows were shattered, and in the barn a part of the iron lock snapped.
Scientists from the University of Bologna have hypothesized that small piece of the falling object may have broken off and created an impact crater that became Lake Cheko about 8 km north-northwest from the event’s center. The lake is 708 metres long, 364 metres wide and about 50 metres deep (2,323 by 1,194 by 164 feet), which is not exactly a mud puddle. Again, the bigness of the boom cannot be overstated.
In 2013 a MUCH smaller superbloide was recorded by Russian drivers in Chelyabinsk. The footage of the even is surreal:
You have to wonder what would happen if there was another near-earth meteor that large that hit our atmosphere closer to a population center. Even if the blast was far from a city or dense population area, it could be a major catastrophe because of the fine particulates it could scatter. The atmospheric debris from a Indonesian volcano gave us the Year Without a Summer in 1816, and a global temperature drop of only 0.4–0.7 °C (0.7–1.3 °F) was enough to cause famine and devastation across the Northern Hemisphere. Anyone up for an impact winter disrupting global food production? Me neither.
Then again, the particulates in the air can make it get warmer in just the right measure. In 2006 some climatologists theorized that it was the Tunguska Event that ‘jump started’ global warming. It was an interesting premise, but the reality is that a cloudy atmosphere would have most likely made the world cooler, not warmer. The fact that the world is getting warmer is beyond reasonable doubt, but some still argue that it is one of those periods of climatic change that would occur without any influence from man. Sadly for those who claim climate change is not man-made, we are supposed to be in a little ice age.
The most likely reason for naturally occurring warming/cooling periods is the action of the Milankovitch cycles, which are predictable changes in the Earth’s orbit caused by astronomical variations. One of the reasons scientists are certain (97% consensus) that global warming is real AND man-made is that we are supposed to be in a cooling phase of the Milankovitch cycle right now and should be entering another little ice age. The earth is getting warmer despite the fact the Earth’s orbit is slightly farther away from the sun. Only the huge amount of CO2 humans are dumping into the atmosphere can explain why the earth is rapidly heating up as though it was in a galactic easy-bake oven. The Earth has been, with the occasional centuries of warmer weather that are mere blips in geological time, cooling over the last 6,000 years and had been diving headlong into the next real ice age. This new glacial period was going to get here around 3500 AD, but it that timing has been seriously thrown off course by the beginning of industrialization. When humans started pumping out the CO2 from our new machines, global temperatures ceased their cooling trend and started rising in synchronization with the rise in greenhouse gasses.
Maybe a giant asteroid will explode just above our surface and create an impact winter to counteract global warming? Talk about the cure being worse than the disease!