"I was sitting on the porch of the house at the trading station, looking north. Suddenly, in the north... the sky was split in two, and high above the forest the whole northern part of the sky appeared covered with fire. I felt a great heat, as if my shirt had caught fire. At that moment, there was a bang in the sky, and a mighty crash. I was thrown twenty feet from the porch. The earth trembled."
Dialogue from some asteroid impact movie? An excerpt from a science fiction novel? A witness to the test of a nuclear explosion? The witness is real, but the event was not the test of an atomic or nuclear device. And it certainly wasn't fiction.
This incredible event, related by this Russian witness, took place on the morning of June 30, 1908 in a remote area of Siberia called Tunguska. And exactly what happened there is still unknown. There are several theories as to what caused the great explosion in the sparsely populated forest at 62 degrees north latitude, but there is no definitive proof for any of them. And now, 100 years later, the debate about the Tunguska event continues.
Whatever happened, the resulting devastation was enormous. A fireball as bright as the sun was seen streaking across the sky. Observers 300 miles away heard deafening bangs. Trees were flattened in a radial pattern over an area of 850 square miles. Seismic vibrations were recorded by instruments as far away as 600 miles. Fires burned for weeks. Forty miles from ground zero, people were thrown to the ground and knocked unconscious. One man was hurled into a tree and killed. Scientists examining the area calculated that the explosion was equivalent to 40 megatons of TNT - 1,000 times the force of the atomic bomb released on Hiroshima in 1945. Yet there was no crater or any other clear evidence for what exploded.
Other, more enigmatic effects were recorded:
- disturbances in the Earth's magnetic field
- a local geomagnetic storm
- a reversal of soil magnetization
- an electromagnetic pulse, similar to what would be created by a nuclear explosion
- aurora displays before and after the event
- unusually bright nights seen before and after the event
- genetic mutations in plants and animals
- accelerated growth of plants afterward
- radiation-like burns and deaths of exposed people.
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