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Race to unravel mystery of 1908 Tunguska catastrophe - the world’s biggest explosion

By 0 and 0 and 0
28 February 2020


Scientific team makes coring at Zapovednoe Lake. Picture: Fedor Daryin

Lakes may hold the answer to the epic Tunguska Event, an atmospheric explosion 112 years ago which had the force of 185 Hiroshima bombs, wiping out 80 million trees.

Sediments are seen as the key to understanding an event that - because of its remote location - was not easily investigated at the time. 

A meteor is believed to have burst some 5 to 10 kilometres above the Earth's surface, flattening more than 2,000 square kilometres (770 square miles) while causing no known casualties. 

Zapovednoye core

The surface of the uncovered core from the Lake Zapovednoye Among the dark-colored clay, a layer of light color (circled red) dating from 1908-1910 is clearly visible. Picture: Fedor Daryin

Now scientists from four major institutes - Novosibirsk Institute of Nuclear Physics, Novosibirsk Institute of Geology and Mineralogy, Tunguska Nature Reserve and Krasnoyarsk Biophysics Institute - are actively studying traces of the last century’s catastrophe hoping to understand an event that literally shook the world. 

‘The mystery of the Tunguska Catastrophe worries both the scientists and the public’, said Dr Arthur Meidus, deputy director to Tunguska Nature Reserve. 

‘The meteorite is not here as a physical body, but the traces of the extremely powerful explosion are, which is what is currently studied by researchers. 

‘Many of us still hope to unravel the scenario of 1908 disaster.’

Confocal X-ray microscope

Confocal X-ray microscope used for the research. Picture: Fedor Daryin

How, specifically? 

Take remote Lake Zapovednoye, some 40 km from the supposed epicentre of the aerial explosion. 

'Although this lake is outside the territory that was affected in 1908, it is of great interest,’ said Dr Meidus.

'It is deep, and silty sediments, that have accumulated here, do not mix, or subside.’

In other words they ‘contain information from earlier years’. 

This includes the ‘history of non-stop climate changes and catastrophic events’.

GV of the area of the research

Tunguska event

The research area. Traces of Tunguska which can be visible now. Pictures: RGO, Tunguska Page of Bologna University

He said: ‘Spring-autumn waste waters and the Lakura River brought traces of the Tunguska catastrophe to this lake, because the event was accompanied by massive wildfires and emissions of both planet and space origin.’

Experiments with the use of modern methods of microanalysis, such as X-ray fluorescence (XRF) analysis deploying synchrotron radiation, show the possibility of a search for micro particles of extraterrestrial origin in dated layers of the sediments.

Artur Meidus

Dr Arthur Meidus, deputy director to Tungusska Nature Reserve. Picture: Krasnoyarsk Scientific Centre

He said: 'We discovered a distinguishing light-coloured layer in sediments of Lake Zapovednoye the content of which - an increased content of potassium, titanium, rubidium, yttrium, and zirconium - allows to tie it to the consequences of the Tunguska bolide explosion.

'This way we know which layer of sediments might contain particles of extraterrestrial origin.

'We established the indicators, that is search criteria, during work with samples of the Chelyabinsk and Sikhote-Alin meteorites.

‘The next stage implies search for micro-particles with unusual composition with the use of synchrotron radiation.

'Now we know where to look for them.

‘If there is extraterrestrial substance, it will be in the 1908-1910 layer.' 

Trees fallen after the Tunguska event

Trees fallen after the Tunguska event

A meteor is believed to have burst some 5 to 10 kilometres above the Earth's surface, flattening more than 2,000 square kilometres (770 square miles). Pictures: RGO, Tunguska Nature Reserve

Other research into Tunguska is underway, too. 

For example, Italian scientists carried out research over 21 years which claimed the dazzling blue-water of Lake Cheko fills the 'missing' impact crater, so giving the elusive evidence that this phenomenon was caused by the meteorite.

Russian geologists have strongly disputed this claim, insisting there is no impact crater because the meteor was entirely destroyed in the atmosphere. 

Except perhaps for a few traces in the sediment of Zapovednoye and other lakes.

Italian scientists carried out research over 21 years which claimed the dazzling blue-water of Lake Cheko fills the 'missing' impact crater, so giving the elusive evidence that this phenomenon was caused by the meteorite. Pictures: V. Romejko, Tunguska Page of Bologna University

Lake Cheko

Italian team

Tunguska event

Comments (7)

Enrichment with titanium is consistent with the finding of John's rock on the Stoykovich mountain in the epicenter of the 1908 Tunguska catastrophe. There are the papers about this in Icurus (2014) and Geoscience Frontiers (2019).
Nina Anfinogenova, Tomsk
20/11/2020 11:35
Astronomically speaking, not to be positive or negative, but neutral. Perhaps the area was Mooned by the Sun. Just a thought to keep balance in comments.
William J Macfarlane, Hannibal,Mo. USA
24/06/2020 09:30
I believe there was some sort of potassium explosion. It ignites in water and in June the permafrost melts. Just a hunch I have. Maybe it will help Dr. Meidus
Emilia Aiete, Romania
26/04/2020 01:52
Research into this object provides insight into objects of this size that strike Earth. That is why it is important. We can learn many details (composition, size, velocity at entry, approximate atmosphere entry, possible solar obit, solar system origin, etc.) about them from the type of research undertaken by Dr. Meidus and similar research, particularly when compared to impacts at different locations on the planet.
Daniel, USA
20/03/2020 12:57
so what if they find "extraterrestrial elements" in the sediment? does that tell them that a meteorite caused the blast? which is already obvious. or exactly when? which they already know. or what extraterrestrial elements are? which they already know what to look for, so they already know what such things are. I don't get what is the point of this exercise. besides, maybe, just an exercise.
horatio, denver, usa
09/03/2020 21:54

Graham Birdsall interviews Valery Uvarov about a strange installation in Siberia that can destroy errant cosmic bodies; and Adriano Forgione talks with Prof. Alexander Chuvyrov about the mysterious 120-million-year-old stone map he found in the Urals.
Tony, Australia
02/03/2020 19:23
I hope that they can answer this long wondered about question
Alex, Sweden
01/03/2020 21:28

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