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Tuesday, June 26, 2001
There has been great interest, and concern, as to the possibility of a meteorite or asteroid impacting Earth. Will the dreaded Asteroid 1997 XF11 really miss us? Could there be a pattern or message to this upcoming event with similar past events, all of which occurred in Russia? Movies, such as Deep Impact and Armageddon, graphically exhibit what the effects on Earth and humanity would be. They paint a terrifying picture. Could the theme for these scenarios come from an actual event, over ninety years ago?
On June 30, 1908, a ball of fire came suddenly out of the sky over the Tunguska region, near the Podkamennaya Tunguska River, in Siberia. What was this fiery ball which changed course twice before its blast laid on their sides acres of timber? Was it a comet, an asteroid or a run away UFO? Prevailing theories as to the fireball's identity include meteorite, comet, anti-matter, black hole, UFO or the act of an angry Shamanist deity.
The explosion witnessed by the Evenk or Tungus people, at about 7:30 in the morning, was equal to roughly fifteen megatons of TNT exploding. The impact of the explosion devastated approximately 500,000 acres (2,000 square kilometers) of timberland with shock waves felt and measured as far away as London. The local people, who were witnesses to the Tunguska Event, chronicle a drama which began with a fireball on the horizon, followed by earth tremors and hot, gale force wind. The fireball and explosion were seen from 500 miles away and the gases from the explosion created abnormal bright night time skies over Siberia and Eastern Europe for months after the event.
This tundra region of Siberia was generally untraveled at the time. It was not until the 1920's, that the first scientific study visited the area of the Tunguska event. This team was lead by Russian scientist, Leonid Alekseyevich Kulik who was determined to find meteorite fragments. Kulik's group came away empty handed. He did document that, for up to roughly 20 miles from the blast area, the land still lay barren and scorched. The epicenter of the blast was easily identified as the trees all lay away from it. There was no crater, when Kulik showed up, just a muddy, lifeless bog. Thirty years after the event the Tunguska region still showed dramatic sights of devastation.
The most widely accepted explanation is that an asteroid exploded delivering the massive shock waves which flattened vast forests and was felt thousands of miles away. To have this effect, theorists believe the asteroid must have been approximately sixty meters in diameter. Scientists have generally dismissed the comet theory because of a comet's composition of ice and dust. Such elements would decompose well above the earth, forming a visible fireburst, but no crater or other earthly devastation. Proponents of the asteroid explanation figure that the fireball impacted the earth at roughly 62,000 mph and weighed at least 100,000 tons.
Today modern scientific research techniques are providing new information on what happened in Tunguska over 90 years ago. Was this fireball an asteroid, UFO or warning from God? We don't know, conclusively. We do know that the devastation was vast and the land has been slow to repair itself. If this had happened near a populated area, the loss of life would have been catastrophic. We can take comfort in the NASA statement which assures us that Asteroid 1997 XF11 will miss Earth by some 600,000 miles, in the year 2028.
Asteroid: similar to comets and ranging in size from softball size to roughly one-third the size of Earth's moon. An Asteroid is a combination of ice and rock; basically left-over debris from the formation of a solar system.
Comet: an object which orbits the sun and appears to have a tail, which is actually a trail of debris particles. The body, or nucleus, of the comet is usually one to seven miles in diameter and composed, primarily, of ice, dust and rock.
Meteor: also known as a shooting star, is a solid object, about the size of a particle of dust to a small rock, originating from a comet. It becomes visible as it enters Earth's atmosphere and is heated by the friction.
Meteorite: a meteor large enough to withstand passage through Earth's atmosphere and impact the surface.
Evenk or Tungus people: Native peoples of western Siberia with a reputation of being hard working and intelligent folk. They resisted Soviet pressure and collectivization and were dispersed throughout Siberian and Manchuria. The Evenk written language was developed during the Soviet period. Despite Soviet persecution, Shamanism is widely practiced, to this day. Evenks believe that good and evil lives in all people and objects. Attempts to Christianize the Evenk have been, generally, unsuccessful.
Tunguska River is actually two parallel rivers in western Siberia. Both are tributaries of the Yenisey and are known as the Podkamennaya Tunguska River and the Nizhnyaya Tunguska River; Upper and Lower Tunguska, respectfully.