Introduction

The so-called Tunguska event has been part of the folklore of science since 1927, when Leonid Kulik became the first scientist to visit the explosion site. He saw an oval plateau 70 kilometres wide where the forest had been flattened. Trees were not uprooted: instead they were stripped of their branches, snapped off and scattered like matchsticks pointing away from the direction of the blast. Even after a careful search Kulik found no crater or other evidence of impact. He searched for meteorite fragments but found nothing. As there was no impact crater and no substantial remnants, a giant meteorite could not have caused the Tunguska explosion. If it were not a meteorite, then what caused the explosion?

The search for the answer to this question has generated a Tunguska industry that has kept both scientists and charlatans busy for eight decades.

Hundreds of research articles in renowned and not-so-renowned journals prove that bright scientific minds are keen to solve the riddle. Tunguska also provides them with an opportunity to test-drive new theories: black holes, ball lightning, anti-matter and mirror matter are some of the examples. Astronomers' recent fascination with the probability of a rogue asteroid striking Earth has also refocused scientific attention on Tunguska. Adventurous ones can always make a trip to Tunguska and look for the evidence for 'stones from the heavens'. There are workshops, symposia and conferences for the non-adventurous ones.

Numerous websites, conspiracy theories, sensational TV documentaries, one episode of the popular TV series The X-Files, and so on prove that Tunguska adds enough exotic spices to make science palatable. For science fiction fans, Tunguska has boundless skies for spaceships to roam.

Whichever way you look, Tunguska is a fascinating journey in serious science, speculative science and science fiction. The Tunguska Fireball attempts to give you a glimpse of that journey.

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