New research shows how dangerously close humanity was to extinction in 1908

Since the existence of mankind, our ancestors were most likely close to extinction without their even knowing it, for various natural reasons, over which they had no control. About 100 years ago, a similar case happened where one of the biggest explosions on our planet happened, but only a few people knew about it at the time because the internet didn’t exist yet.

The Tunguska event, named after the place where it occurred, was thought to be the action of a large meteorite hitting the earth. That’s what scientists also believed for more than a century, but recently it was proven that nothing actually touched the earth, and how lucky we were. Before we dwell on recent scientific research, let’s look at the Tunguska event of 1908.

The day of the event

It was a calm summer day in the remote Siberian region of Krasnoyarsk Krai which was home to only a few inhabitants here and there along the forest. On June 30, 1908 at around 7 a.m. (local time), residents woke up to a devastating explosion and immediately a shock wave that shattered all the windows and knocked everyone to the ground. After the explosion, a wave of fire split the sky in two. The peasants described the event as the end of the world in their eyes, in just a short minute the entire Tunguska Forest was on fire.

Putting out the forest fire was simply impossible, all the local inhabitants had to leave the forest as the fire kept intensifying due to the strong winds coming from the Pacific Ocean. The fire lasted about 3 days, after the event residents who returned to their homes which were in ashes described the sight as hell on earth. Even though the explosion was one of the largest ever on this planet, it happened in a very remote place, so it took a long time for people to hear about this event.

Map representing Siberia from 1908 (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

During the event, more than 80 million trees were burned and everything razed within a radius of 2,000 kilometers. Based on the damage caused by the explosion, scientists predict it was 1000 times more powerful than the atomic bomb that hit Hiroshima in 1945. To give you a more accurate comparison, the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima was the same than 15 kilotons of TNT while the explosion that took place at Tunguska was estimated at around 10 megatons of TNT.

Most of the inhabitants moved because they feared that such an event could happen again. Either way, much of the wildlife that was crucial to their survival was scared off by the huge blast. Some thought it was a sign from the gods, while others thought it was the army testing new weapons. The unexplained anomaly took years to reach the ears of scientists. This shows how remote the place was at the time.

A scientific anomaly for decades

In 1921, 13 years after the event, Soviet scientists set out to investigate the area of ​​the explosion. Until that time, local residents blamed the explosion on gold diggers who frequently used too much TNT, however, no man at that time had so much TNT at his disposal to cause such an explosion. Scientists were pretty sure it was a meteor, so they looked for iron and other minerals it might have been made of.

Trees at the Tunguska event site (Source: Bettmann/Getty Images)

Surprisingly enough, the scientist managed to find absolutely nothing that left them scratching their heads as to what could have caused such a powerful explosion. After a decade of occurrence, scientists around the world have come up with their own speculations such as “the meteor debris will be buried hundreds of feet into the ground” plausibly though, it would take well over a decade for that to happen.

Near the Tunguska River, the experts found the central impact area, which made them quite sure it was a meteor or something that impacted the earth. One of the Soviet scientists came up with the theory of the meteor exploding when entering the lower atmosphere of the earth. In more detail, if it had exploded in the lower atmosphere, the debris is accelerated, creating even more friction with the atmosphere, which creates enough heat to burn the iron and other minerals in the meteor.

100 years later, a new forest grows at the site of the Tunguska explosion/ Siberia, 2008 (Source: Sovfoto/UIG/Getty Images)

Later, a British astronomer by the name of FJW Whipple came up with his own theory which suggests that the body that hit Tunguska was not a meteor but actually a comet. This would explain why no debris was found. Unlike meteors, comets are made up of ice and dust. In this case, the comet would have burned up from the heat as it entered the lower atmosphere. However, that still wouldn’t explain the huge patch of land left uncovered for so many years. It must have been caused by a strong impact.

A more interesting and plausible theory is that of astrophysicist Wolfgang Kundt who suggests that the explosion was caused by 10 million tons of natural gas released from within the earth’s crust. Again not implausible, however, this would not explain the huge shock wave that would instead be created in a physical impact rather than an explosion within the earth’s crust. Moreover, based on this amount of natural gas, a huge crust in the ground would have been created.

In 2009, modern scientists suggested that the Tunguska event was the result of a collision of matter and antimatter near our galaxy. This causes the particles to annihilate and emit intense bursts of energy. A natural force that cannot be seen, however, it has immense power. Such an event is extremely rare but plausible. Other scientists have looked at this from the perspective of a possible air burst. Considering the meteor had exploded upon entering the lower atmosphere, it could have caused an airburst 10 kilometers above the Earth’s surface.

Flattened trees from the Tunguska event (Source: Imgur)

However, most of this speculation was debunked in 2013 by a group of scientists from the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine led by Victor Kvasnytsya. The team analyzed microscopic rock samples taken near the center of the explosion site. The results showed that the rocks had a meteoric origin. However, this still does not answer the question of where all the meteor debris had disappeared to.

Considering the size of the supposed meteor that had caused such damage, there must have been an intact piece of it. At the same time, with the meteor speculated to be 100 feet wide, it should have formed a crater that would be at least 20 feet deep and 100 feet wide, but the center of impact is fairly flat. With each theory brought to the table also comes new questions about it.

Impact area in 2009 (Source: Imgur)

Of course, for those a little more knowledgeable, I can’t get through this without suggesting Alexey Zolotov’s theory found in a book called “The New Soviet Psychic Discoveries” by Henry Gray and William Dick. Zolotov was a department head at the All-Union Institute of Geophysical Prospecting Methods in the Soviet Union and he had a very simple theory:

“It was not a meteorite or any other type of natural phenomenon. It did not make any craters in the ground. It was a compact nuclear device, sent with great precision, deliberately exploded above ‘a relatively uninhabited area to let us know that we are not alone in space’ (Quote by Alexei Zolotov/ Source:The New Soviet Psychic Discoveriesby: Henry Gray and William Dick, p267, p263, p238–239.)

If that were the case, although I don’t like to refer to extraterrestrial beings when it comes to historical events, I think they would do a lot more damage. Earlier in the book, it was stated that eyewitnesses had stated that “shortly before the explosion, Tunguska’s body performed a certain flight maneuver in the Earth’s atmosphere, in the form of a zigzag 800 kilometers long… The sum total of all the evidence leads to the conclusion that the body was an outer space probe that exploded in the Earth’s atmosphere for reasons still undetermined”

Nevertheless, with this theory, it was believed that all perspectives had been addressed and yet nothing really offered an answer to please scientists and the rest of the world. Over time science has come closer and closer to what many people believe to be the real theory to explain exactly what happened.

A mystery, so far

Some scientists considered the possibility that the meteor was actually an asteroid, however, an asteroid would have left a huge crater in the ground, so that was not the case, but what if the asteroid came exceed ?

Daniil Khrennikov of the Siberian Federal University in Russia performed a computer simulation of the impact an asteroid would have if it entered Earth’s atmosphere at an incredible speed, reaching Earth’s stratosphere and exiting Earth’s atmosphere in the blink of an eye. The simulation was performed based on a 650-foot (200-meter) asteroid entering Earth’s atmosphere at 12 miles per second (20 kilometers per second).

The theory suggests that the Earth was not actually hit by the asteroid, but simply the burst of air created by the asteroid as it entered the Earth’s atmosphere at such high speed had such great energy that she caused this huge explosion. The angle at which the asteroid entered Earth’s atmosphere was very close to hitting our planet, instead it just brushed the stratosphere.

When the asteroid entered the Earth’s atmosphere, its speed was automatically reduced by the gravitational force of our planet. Based on the law of physics, this slowing energy of such enormous mass had to be transmitted somewhere and it most likely ended up hitting Tunguska. This would explain why there is no cosmic body on the scene and why no crater has formed.

This seems to me by far the most plausible theory. However, what is truly frightening is to think that if an airburst from the asteroid had that much power, how big would the explosion be from a direct impact?