Tunguska: Have Scientists Finally Explained What Caused the World’s Largest Explosion?

A study proposes that an "iron object" of 200 meters in diameter breached our planet's atmosphere, but just before entering completely and impacting the surface, it bounced off and made its way into space. 

In Brief: A new study explains that the world’s largest explosion, the Tunguska event, was caused by an Iron object that entered, and left Earth’s atmosphere.


Scientists have proposed a startling new theory for the largest explosion on Earth, the 1908 Tunguska Event which unleashed a force compared to 185 Hiroshima Bombs. According to a study published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, a massive iron asteroid breached Earth’s atmosphere without disintegrating, but before it impacted the surface, it bounced up and made its way to space again.

The Tunguska 1908 event has remained unexplained for more than 112 years. Countless theories have been proposed throughout the years trying to explain what caused a massive explosion on Earth, comparable in energy to the detonation of 185 Hiroshima Bombs. Although my interesting theories were proposed, none were satisfactory.

The massive explosion rocked Siberia, wining court more than 80 million trees over a remote area of the then tsarist empire.

Theories proposed that a meteor exploded in the atmosphere, leveling the ground beneath it, or a meteorite striking the surface but burying itself so deep that no one ever found it, or even a comet composed mainly of ice disintegrating, creating widespread destruction. But despite the numerous theories, there has been little to no evidence at all to support the existence of a space object causing the destruction in Siberia.

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.

However, a new theory may finally explain the hundred-year-old mystery. According to Dr. Sergei Karpov, a leading scientist at the Kirensky Physics Institute in Krasnoyarsk, the Tunguska event was created by a space object, and it was an asteroid body which passed through Earth’s atmosphere and managed to continue to a near-solar orbit. The object in question was between 100 to 200 meters in diameter, and although it created widespread destruction beneath it, it left no traces of itself as it passed through the atmosphere.

In other words, what Dr. Karpov is proposing is that an asteroid of around 200 meters breached our planet’s atmosphere, but just before entering completely and impacting the surface, it bounced off and made its way into space.

As revealed in the study, the destruction in Siberia was “the result of a passing space body and its shock wave, rather than a direct impact.” The “iron object” it’s thought to have passed over 3,000 kilometers of the world’s surface with the lowest altitude achieved being between 10 to 15 kilometers. It traveled at incredible speed, reaching 20 kilometers per second (12.4 miles per second) before exiting into the space stripping around half of its over 30 million tonnes weight on the way.

Calculations suggest that the showcase produced by the object as it entered our atmosphere was due to the rapid evaporation of the asteroid’s body as it approached the surface. According to the researchers, if the object was indeed an asteroid of 200 meters in diameter, this would have been around 500,000 tones per second. This would have produced a high-temperature plasma that created the explosion/shockwave, left behind. Furthermore, the researcher explain that the object likely flew over the epicenter for no more than a second. This was however enough to what the forest causing it to lit up.

“We calculated trajectory characteristics of space from 50 to 200 meters in diameter, and our modeling shows that it could not consist of rock or ice because, on the contrast with iron, such bodies fall apart quickly because of colossal aerodynamic pressure in the atmosphere,” Dr. Karpoov explained.

The object is believed to have heated up to a temperature of around 10,000 degrees Celsius at its lowest approach to Earth’s surface.

The scientists concluded in their study that “the absence of iron droplets around the epicenter is explained by the high velocity of the space body during through passage across the Earth’ s atmosphere.”

Indeed, if the object that produced the Tunguska event was made out of Iron it would explain thy there are no iron droplets anywhere near the epicenter. The researchers say that given the speed of the space object, they simply couldn’t form. This, in turn, means that the object was heated to several thousands of degrees Celsius.

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