Cosmic Mystery: Scientists Search for “Extraterrestrial Matter” Hoping to Solve Tunguska Explosion

112 years ago, a massive explosion with the force of 185 Hiroshima bombs that wiped out 80 million trees literally shook the Earth. It's called the Tunguska event, and never has its mystery been solved.

In 1908, a never-before-seen explosion took place in Tunguska, present-day Russia, believed to have been caused by the disintegration of a massive meteor in Earth’s atmosphere. Now, Russian scientists are willing to explore the region in a new scientific mission, hoping to discover traces of cosmic matter.

At 7:17 in the morning, on June 30th, 1908, a massive explosion took place not far from the Tunguska River in Yeniseysk Governorate–now Krasnoyarsk Krai.

The mysterious explosions as so powerful that it is believed to have flattened an estimated 80 million trees over an area of 2,150 km2(830 sq mi) of forest and some eyewitness reports suggest that at least three people may have died in the as a result of the massive explosion, despite the official versions stating no casualties were caused by the event.

Although scientists know that an explosion did take place, they have not been able to come to the bottom of what caused the explosion.

It is usually acknowledged that the catastrophic explosion was caused by a meteoroid, making its way through Earth’s atmosphere. Although the “Tunguska Event” is classified as an impact event, despite an extensive search, researchers have never discovered an impact crater.

This is because the object–whatever it was–is thought to have disintegrated anywhere between 5 to 10 kilometers above the surface, probably not making contact with the ground.

The remoteness of the site, as well as the lack of adequate instrumentation at the time of the event, resulted in little scientific data after the impact.

Eventual scientific studies would yield different sizes of the alleged object: studies have proposed that whatever had impacted our planet was between 50 to 190 meters in diameter.

The shockwave caused by the object’s ingression to the atmosphere and consequent airburst would have measured 5.0 in the Richter Magnitude Scale.

Furthermore, scientists estimate that the release of energy caused by the event would have equaled anywhere between 3 to 30 megatons of TNT.

Comparison of possible sizes of Tunguska (TM mark) and Chelyabinsk (CM) meteoroids to the Eiffel Tower and Empire State Building. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons / Phoenix CZE / CC BY-SA 4.0.
Comparison of possible sizes of Tunguska (TM mark) and Chelyabinsk (CM) meteoroids to the Eiffel Tower and Empire State Building. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons / Phoenix CZE / CC BY-SA 4.0.CZE / CC BY-SA 4.0.

Such is the power of the event that it would have been capable of destroying a large metropolitan area if the went occurred over modern-cities.

More than 1,00 scientific papers have been published since the event took place. However, it wasn’t until 2013 that a team of researchers found evidence that may point to the object being of meteoritic origin. Nonetheless, conclusive evidence to explain what happened continues to elude scientists.

The Tunguska event is regarded as the largest impact event on the surface of the planet in recorded history.

Now, a group of scientists from Russia are eager to solve the mystery once and for all, and they say that a new expedition will search the region for traces of cosmic matter that may have been left after the explosion.

The perfect place to start, say, scientists, are the lakes and rivers of the region, which may hold important clues that can help experts solve the mystery of the catastrophic event which occurred 112 years ago, creating an explosion with a force of 185 Hiroshima bombs, wiping out 80 million trees.

Scientists from four major Russian institutes, Novosibirsk Institute of Nuclear Physics, Novosibirsk Institute of Geology and Mineralogy, Tunguska Nature Reserve, and Krasnoyarsk Biophysics Institute – are actively studying traces of the catastrophe expecting to understand an event that literally shook the world.

“The mystery of the Tunguska Catastrophe worries both the scientists and the public’, revealed Dr. Arthur Meidus, deputy director to Tunguska Nature Reserve to the Siberian Times.

“The meteorite is not here as a physical body, but the traces of the extremely powerful explosion are, which is what is currently studied by researchers. Many of us still hope to unravel the scenario of the 1908 disaster.”

To get to the bottom of the Tunguska Event mystery, scientists will analyze the remote Lake Zapovednoye, some 40 km from the supposed epicenter of the aerial explosion.

A photograph from Kulik's 1929 expedition taken near the Hushmo River showing the many trees affected by the so-called Tunguska Event. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain.
A photograph from Kulik’s 1929 expedition taken near the Hushmo River, showing the many trees affected by the so-called Tunguska Event. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain.

“Although this lake is outside the territory that was affected in 1908, it is of great interest,” said Dr. Meidus. “It is deep, and silty sediments that have accumulated here do not mix, or subside. In other words, they ‘contain information from earlier years.”

Experts are hoping to find a “history of non-stop climate changes and catastrophic events.”

Experiments with the use of modern methods of microanalysis, such as X-ray fluorescence (XRF) analysis deploying synchrotron radiation, show the possibility of a search for microparticles of extraterrestrial origin in dated layers of the sediments.

Date layers of sediments near the epicenter of the alleged impact could provide important information about the event. Scientists will make use of modern methods of microanalysis, such as X-ray fluorescence (XRF) analysis deploying synchrotron radiation to study the search area.

So far, the research has yielded important clues about the event. The scientists have revealed that analysis of the lake sediments and as well as soil samples have shown a “distinguishing light-colored layer in sediments of Lake Zapovednoye the content of which – an increased content of potassium, titanium, rubidium, yttrium, and zirconium – allows to tie it to the consequences of the Tunguska bolide explosion.”

“This way, we know which layer of sediments might contain particles of extraterrestrial origin. We established the indicators, that is search criteria, during work with samples of the Chelyabinsk and Sikhote-Alin meteorites,” Meidus revealed to the Siberia Times.

Using synchrotron radiation, the scientists will not hunt for microparticles with an unusual composition.

“The next stage implies a search for micro-particles with unusual composition with the use of synchrotron radiation. Now we know where to look for them. If there is extraterrestrial substance, it will be in the 1908-1910 layer,” he added.

Interest in the Tunguska Event has been reignited as several other scientific groups are trying to understand what “shook the world” 112 years ago.

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