Scientists reveal how dangerously close humanity was to becoming extinct in 1908

A destructive cosmic event has puzzled scientists for more than a century. Now scientists have revealed that it could have even ended the humanity.

Throughout the course of human history, we have been blissfully ignorant of the many close shaves we’ve had with natural disasters that could have spelled the end of our species. One such event took place a little over a century ago, resulting in one of the largest explosions ever recorded on Earth.

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Tunguska event is considered the largest earth impact event in recorded history. This is an early art recreation of the possible meteor which had hit the Tunguska forest in 1908. © The Emergence Network / Fair Use

Surprisingly, few people were aware of this event at the time due to its remote location and the lack of communication technology. This event, known as the Tunguska Event, has sparked years of scientific curiosity and debate.

The dawn of the Tunguska Event

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Tunguska marshes, around the area where it fell. This photo is from the magazine Around the World, 1931. The original photo was taken between 1927 and 1930 (presumptively no later than 14 September 1930). © Wikimedia Commons

On a tranquil summer day in 1908, the inhabitants of the remote Siberian region of Krasnoyarsk Krai were awakened by a catastrophic explosion. This explosion was immediately followed by a shockwave that shattered windows and knocked people off their feet. The sky was then split in two by a wave of fire, an event that the inhabitants described as apocalyptic. In mere minutes, the forest was set ablaze.

The devastation aftermath

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Trees knocked over by the Tunguska blast. © Public Domain

Unable to contain the forest fire due to the intensifying winds from the Pacific Ocean, the locals were forced to flee. The fire raged on for three days, leaving a desolate landscape in its wake. Over 80 million trees were destroyed, and everything within a 2,000-kilometer radius was flattened.

Experts believe that the explosion was 1000 times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Yet, despite this massive magnitude, the event remained largely unknown due to its remote location.

To offer you a more accurate comparison, the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima was the same as 15 kilotons of TNT whilst the explosion that took place at Tunguska was estimated to be around 10 megatons of TNT.

Most of the inhabitants relocated as they were afraid that such an event may occur once again. Either way, much of the wildlife which was crucial to their survival got scared away due to the huge explosion. Some believed it was a sign from the Gods.

The pursuit of answers

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Location of the event in Siberia (modern map). © Wikimedia Commons

Thirteen years after the event, Soviet scientists ventured into the blast zone to investigate. Initially, locals blamed gold miners for the explosion, but the scientists were confident that a meteorite was responsible for the devastation. They expected to find traces of iron and other minerals, but their search came up empty. This led to a host of theories, each with its own set of questions and contradictions.

The comet theory

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Comparison of sizes of Empire State Building and Eiffel Tower to Chelyabinsk (CM) and Tunguska (TM) meteoroids. © Wikimedia Commons

One of the most compelling theories was proposed by British astronomer F.J.W. Whipple. He suggested that a comet not a meteor, was responsible for the Tunguska Event. Comets, which are composed of ice and dust, would have disintegrated upon entering the Earth’s atmosphere, leaving no trace of debris.

The natural gas theory

Astrophysicist Wolfgang Kundt proposed a different explanation. He suggested the explosion was a result of 10 million tons of natural gas escaping from the Earth’s crust. However, this theory struggled to account for the shockwave caused by the explosion and the lack of a large crater.

The antimatter theory

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Why is there so much more matter than antimatter in the universe we can see? © NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center / Fair Use

In 2009, scientists suggested that the Tunguska event may have been the result of matter and antimatter colliding in our galaxy. This would create a burst of energy capable of causing such an explosion. However, this theory was also met with skepticism.

The meteoric origin discovery

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The event saw an explosion burn around 800 square miles of Siberia but a mystery has long surrounded its cause due to a lack of physical evidence. © The Siberian Times / Fair Use

In 2013, scientists from the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine led by Victor Kvasnytsya analyzed microscopic samples of rocks from the explosion site. The results indicated a meteoric origin, but the mystery of the missing debris remained unsolved.

The extraterrestrial theory

Alexey Zolotov, Department Head at the All-Union Institute of Geophysical Prospecting Methods, proposed an unconventional theory. He suggested that the Tunguska Event was a deliberate explosion caused by a compact nuclear device sent by extraterrestrial beings to signal their existence. This theory, while fascinating, remains speculative.

The asteroid theory

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An asteroid moving towards the Earth. © Nazarii Neshcherenskyi / Istock 

Some scientists have considered the possibility of an asteroid being responsible for the Tunguska event. A computer simulation conducted by Daniil Khrennikov at the Siberian Federal University suggested that an asteroid could have grazed Earth’s atmosphere, creating an air burst that resulted in the explosion.

The asteroid would have entered at a high speed, decelerated rapidly due to Earth’s gravitational pull, and then exited the atmosphere. The energy from this deceleration could have been transmitted to Tunguska, causing the explosion.

While this theory seems to be the most plausible, it raises a terrifying question: What if an asteroid were to strike Earth directly?