Siberia Blast was Volcanic Blowout
by Giles Whittell in Moscow
The Times, July 21, 2001
The cause of a massive explosion over central Siberia that has remained one of the great mysteries of modern science, was a "volcanic blowout" of ten million tonnes of natural gas, a noted German physicist has claimed. The eruption over the Tunguska plateau one summer morning 93 years ago has long been explained as the impact of the biggest meteorite to hit Earth since prehistoric times. It scorched nearly 1,000 sq miles of forest, incinerated entire colonies of reindeer and sent elderly men 200 miles away running for the bathhouse to be clean for their impending deaths. For the past half-century the "Tunguska event" has been explained as an incoming meteorite or comet exploding in the upper atmosphere with the force of 1,000 Hiroshima bombs. However, it left no cosmic debris or crater, forcing even experts to admit that its cause was one of the great mysteries of modern science. That may be about to change: 17 factors, including the patterns of tectonic faults and fallen trees in the area, suggest that the explosion had nothing to do with outer space, but was caused by gas forced upwards from the planet's molten core, Wolfgang Kundt, Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Bonn, writes in August's issue of the journal Current Science.
The "outgassing" may also have created, in a few earth-shaking minutes, a geological structure close to the surface of the Earth known as a kimberlite after the legendery diamond reserves found in the 19th century near the South African town of Kimberley, Professor Kundt writes. "If they find that, as is indicated, it would turn Siberia into a rich industrial country," he told The Times, dismissing the comet and meteorite theories as pseudo-science. "If good physicists had been involved from the start this problem would never have occurred,' he said. "As it was (the early study of the Tunguska phenomenon) was left to geophysicists and geologists with no knowledge of extraterrestial bodies." The first outsider to visit Tunguska was neither a physicist nor a geophysicist, but a goldsmith named Suzdalev, who arrived in 1910 and swore the locals to silence about what he found. They obeyed, and it is unknown whether he left with a fortune in diamonds or nothing at all. The next expedition was in 1927, when Leonid Kulik, a Russian geologist, observed a stunning radial pattern of thousands of trees felled by the blast, their blackened trunks pointing to an epicentre in the middle of a 250 million year-old volcanic crater at the junction of seismic faultlines. Witness accounts from 1908, throughout the region were plentiful, but contradictory. They spoke of fireballs, twin columns of flame and trails of fire from several directions. There were also reports of eerie lights in the night sky before and after June 30, strong enough to read a newspaper by and visible as far away as Western Europe.
Amateurs have explained these accounts with theories about black holes, "anti- matter bullets" and, most popular of all, an exploding spaceship that was the subject of a best-selling Soviet book, Guest From Space. Two costly expeditions by the University of Bologna since the Soviet collapse have focused on meteorites. They claim to have found microscopic traces of space dust in spruce resin to support the view that the blast was caused by a stony meteor 200ft wide approaching at a 45-degree angle and exploding four miles above the Earth. However, such a meteorite cannot account for 12 conical holes in the ground near the epicentre and would have felled the trees in a parallel pattern, Professor Kundt insists. Andrei Olkhovatov, a Russian scientist who supports many of his findings, says that a meteor 200ft across would have left at least 100,000 tonnes of debris along its approach path. "But the question arises, where are the remnants?" he asked. "Nowhere, nothing after decades of detailed research."