Vladimir Rubtsov and Edward Ashpole
On June 30, 1908, on a sunny Siberian morning at 00 H 14 M GMT (7:14 am local time) something exploded in the skies over the Podkamennaya (Lower Stony) Tunguska River in what is now Krasnoyarsk Krai of Russia. The blast blew out windows 200 km away and was heard more than 800 km from the site. The seismic wave was recorded as far away as Germany and the atmospheric pressure wave was measured on barographs in London. The nearest eyewitnesses (30 km to the south-southeast) had their shelter blown away, their local area set afire, and reported a second sun in the sky. Approximately 2100 sq km of forest was radially flattened and then burned. At the epicentre, trees remained standing but were stripped of branches – burnt telegraph poles. The blast occurred at some 6 to 8 km altitude. There is no impact crater.
I became fascinated by the Tunguska Event nearly half a century ago, reading about it in ‘Boy’s Life’ or some such and I am not alone, as it has become an enduring Global mystery, familiar to hundreds of millions, and a staple of popular western culture seeking the undefinable. A true X-File. This morning, (26 October 2009) a Google search on ‘Tunguska event’ turned up over 59,000 hits. Not surprising for an occurrence that has been the focus of intense curiosity, speculation and (as Dr. Rubtsov has detailed) an extraordinary investigative effort by Soviet and Russian scientists over the last hundred years.
Dr. Rubtsov’s book is an encyclopedic compilation and a well written precis of the scientific records of that marvellous research. From the 1921 Kulik expedition searching for evidence of a meteorite impact (which was not found) to the Centenary conferences held in 2008 to discuss the event (there were more than half a dozen of them), Dr. Rubtsov has catalogued the incredible effort put into the problem over the last century, both by independent researchers and also by the official Soviet (later Russian) Scientific Academies. Much of the content and references have not been widely documented in the West prior to this publication and that is not surprising, since most of the citations refer to previous documentation only available in Russian. It is an excellent reference book and a worthy addition to the libraries of all anomalists.
More than that, it is clear from Dr. Rubtsov’s writing that he holds a huge ‘affection’ (for lack of a better word), not only for the still unsolved mystery of the Tunguska Event (which he has been personally involved in for nearly four decades), but also for the vast army of scientific researchers (it was a revelation to me just how vast this army was) who have spent large proportions of their professional lives in trying to make sense of this extraordinary happening. He writes with humour and a subtle wit. The subtlety is not misplaced, since during the Soviet era, subtlety was necessary in addressing the problem. The wrong inference published by an open-minded scientist could have earned him a one way ticket to Siberia and a lifetime spent contemplating the mystery from some nearby Gulag. In this respect, Dr. Rubtsov’s book should be of interest not only to anomalists, but also to historians and others interested in the evolution of the Soviet scientific effort under the paradigm of an (arguably) paranoid totalitarian government.
Dr. Rubtsov is meticulous in detailing the evidence that has emerged of the mystery. Unusual celestial phenomena recorded as remotely as Western Europe beginning three days or earlier before the event. Many hundreds of eyewitness reports from up to 1000 km away of a flying object (or objects) as it (or they) approached Tunguska, records of the hemispheric magnetic storm associated with the explosion, analysis of the felled trees, including blast patterns and ‘flash burns’, remnant traces of ‘hard’ or ionizing radiation in the area, the presence of rare earth elements (and other interesting elements) in the zone affected by the explosion, biological mutations and last but not least, barographic records of the explosion that indicate the possibility that it may have had a nuclear origin. The calculated magnitude of the blast itself was 50 megatons, approximately equivalent to the largest hydrogen bomb ever detonated (the so-called Tsar Bomb fired in 1961 in Novaya Zemlya). This was not your garden variety meteorite!
The book is extremely well referenced and I suspect that Dr. Rubtsov’s editor, Edward Ashpole, has had a large influence in setting it in it’s final form for English publication. I would have liked a more comprehensive index dealing more specifically with subjects as well as with people – perhaps that will come in later printings?
It is apparent that in addition to being a good writer and scientist, above all Dr. Rubtsov is an empiricist. He repeatedly makes the point that there is no use in proposing explanations that do not fit all of the empirical data. From Kulik’s 1921 meteorite, through comet cores, cosmic snowflakes, mini-black holes, an antimatter asteroid and even the ‘fanciful’ explanation proposed by the Russian Science Fiction writer Alexander Kazantsev in 1945 (a distressed alien starship), Dr. Rubtsov has looked at them all. None of them totally fit the data, although some of them have definitely provided insight and guidance for future research.
Does Dr. Rubtsov have his own theory? Indeed he does, but I will not reveal it in this review, partly because I am still trying to get my head around it. Does it fit the data? Well, yes. That should be enough although it probably won’t be. There is clearly more work to be done.
Heartily recommended for all of us who do not totally trust or accept the current world view promulgated in the popular media. Heartily recommended for all those who like to look at the evidence (the two – ie the current world view and the evidence – are not, in my opinion, necessarily contiguous). I think that Dr. Rubtsov would probably agree.