Nautilus

The Mystery of the Dark Asteroid That Scorched Russia

On a June morning in 1908, above a sleepy forest in the Siberian Taiga plush with larches, spruces, and black bears, something flashed so bright and hot in the sky that a hunter 10 miles away, near the Middle Tunguska River, tore his shirt off thinking it was on fire. Locals described some variation of a “fiery ball flying north.” A loud explosion, releasing the equivalent of three to five megatons of TNT, followed. The resulting shock wave, the largest in recorded history (185 times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb), spread out over 1,000 square miles. Some 30 people were in the vicinity. Many of them were knocked unconscious, and at least three were killed. Houses and millions of trees toppled over and charred. Somehow, hours later, astronomers in Europe and Asia witnessed a night sky so bright that, “at midnight,” according to one testimony, “it was possible to read the newspaper without artificial lights.”

For a time, it seemed that a similarly mysterious

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