The usual suspects

As far back as 1969, a Russian writer, P.I. Privalova (believed to be the pseudonym of Igor Zotkin, a member of the then Committee of Meteorites of the Soviet Academy of Science), published a list of 77 theories that had been put forward to explain the Tunguska event. The list could be stretched to 120, Ms Privalova hinted, if one was at a campfire in the taiga with a glass of vodka. As the following list has been compiled without the benefit of a glass of vodka at a taiga campfire, it includes only a 'dirty dozen'.

A comet that disintegrated in the atmosphere. The unusually loose structure of the comet led to its break-up in the atmosphere. The diameter of its nucleus is estimated to be 40 metres, much smaller than diameters of visual comets.

An asteroid that exploded in mid-air. A stony asteroid that exploded at about 8 kilometres above the ground. It was about 30 metres across. The 15-megaton explosion released a million tonnes of small particles in Earth's atmosphere. Winds dispersed the dust in the stratosphere, which caused the bright skies reported in the aftermath of the fall.

A mini black hole that passed through Earth. A mini black hole, invisible to the naked eye, entered at Tunguska and then travelled through Earth for about 15 minutes. When it exited through the North Atlantic, it caused shock waves in the ocean and the atmosphere.

An anti-matter rock that annihilated itself when it entered the ordinary matter atmosphere. The explosion, which was like a 35-megaton atomic or hydrogen bomb, generated trillions of radioactive carbon-14 atoms.

A mirror matter rock that nobody could see. As it dived into the atmosphere, the heat caused it to explode at high altitude. The rock was roughly 100 metres in size and weighed about 1 million tonnes.

A volcanic blow-out. Natural gas escaped from narrow underground volcanic vents and raced upwards at high speed and started mixing with air. After a few hours this volatile mixture, which contained 10 million tonnes of methane, exploded like a fireball.

A giant lightning ball that materialised from nowhere.

The estimates of its diameter vary from 200 metres to 1 kilometre. It disintegrated into smaller spheres, which further disintegrated into still smaller spheres, until finally they exploded.

'Geometeors' that came from below. The explosion was caused by a strong coupling between some unknown subterranean and atmospheric processes. This coupling formed meteor-like luminous objects, but of terrestrial origin.

A plasmoid surrounded by a strong magnetic field.

This 100,000-tonne plasmoid was ejected from the Sun to wreak havoc at Tunguska.

An alien spaceship that broke down. It plunged out of control through Earth's atmosphere and within a fraction of a second it vaporised in a blinding flash of light.

A zap from an alien laser. A laser sent by ETs from a giant planet orbiting the star 61 Cygni zapped the taiga.

An experiment on a 'death ray' which got out of hand. Nikola Tesla mistakenly pointed his death ray at Tunguska.

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