On June 30,1908, about 7:40 am, an enormous explosion occurred at an altitude of 5-10 km (3-6 miles), flattening some 2,000 square km (500,000 acres) and charring more than 100 square km (25,000 acres) of pine forest near the Podkamennaya Tunguska River in central Siberia (60°55' N, 101°57' E), Russia. The energy of the explosion is estimated to have been equivalent to that of about 15 megatons of TNT, a thousand times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, on Aug. 6,1945.
It is believed that the cause was a small asteroid (large meteoroid)perhaps 50-100 metres (150-300 feet) in diameter and having a stony or carbonaceous composition—or, though less likely, a comet—that entered the atmosphere at a speed of 15-30 km/sec (30,000-60,000 miles/ hour). Objects of this size are estimated to collide with Earth once every few hundred years on average. Because the object exploded in the atmosphere high above Earth's surface, it created a fireball and blast wave but no impact crater, and no fragments of the object have yet been found. The radiant energy from such an explosion would be enough to ignite forests, but the subsequent blast wave would quickly overtake the fires and extinguish them. Thus, the Tunguska blast charred the forest but did not produce a sustained fire.
The remote site of the explosion was first investigated from 1927 to 1930 in expeditions led by Russian scientist Leonid Alekseyevich Kulik. Around the epicentre (the location on the ground directly below the explosion) Kulik found felled, splintered trees lying radially for some 15-30 km (10-20 miles). Everything had been devastated and scorched, and very little was growing two decades after the event. The epicentre was easy to pinpoint because the felled trees all pointed away from it; at that spot investigators observed a marshy bog but no crater.
Eyewitnesses who had observed the event from a distance spoke of a fireball lighting the horizon, followed by trembling ground and hot winds strong enough to throw people down and shake buildings as in an earthquake. (At the time, seismographs in western Europe recorded seismic waves from the blast.) The blast had been initially visible from about 800 km (500 miles) away, and, because the object vaporized, gases were dispersed into the atmosphere, thus causing the abnormally bright nighttime skies in Siberia and Europe for some time after the event. Additional on-site investigations were performed by Soviet scientists in 1958 through 1961 and by an Italian-Russian expedition in 1999.
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