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Tunguska: 90 Years After

Vladimir V. Rubtsov, Ph.D., Research Institute on Anomalous Phenomena (RIAP), Kharkov, Ukraine

original source |  fair use notice

Summary: This summer coincides with the 90th anniversary of the fall of the famous Tunguska space body (TSB). During the last years and decades the TSB investigators have been accumulating a vast amount of information on some TSB-related effects that were not previously studied in detail.

Posted:9:30 PM, September 21, 1999

This summer coincides with the 90th anniversary of the fall of the famous Tunguska space body (TSB). Any anniversary in science is a good opportunity to review previous work, even if there are no other obvious reasons for that. In this case, however, such reasons do exist. During the last years and decades the TSB investigators have been accumulating a vast amount of information on some TSB-related effects that were not previously studied in detail. These effects include, in particular, anomalies of thermoluminescence of the rocks and soils of the Tunguska area, the regional geomagnetic storm that followed the TSB explosion, atmospheric fallout of strange composition (mainly rare earths), and some other TSB traces that cannot find a place in the framework of the "classical" meteorite (or comet) conception of this event.

Conceivably we are on the threshold of obtaining a comprehensive data set that will allow to build a well-grounded model of the phenomenon. Of course, you can never be sure that the data set is comprehensive indeed. When building such a model, one cannot help but conjecture some its elements. (In fact, this is not so blameworthy: to verify these conjectures means to substantiate the model as a whole.) What is, however, definitely unacceptable in serious scientific research, that is the rejection of well established facts just because they do not correspond to a theoretical model.

In physics there has been developed an effective method of describing mathematically a complicated process or phenomenon which cannot be grasped at first glance. Having taken such a phenomenon in its simplest form and built a rigorous mathematical model, the scientist tries to add new components to the model so as to bring it closer to reality. Whether or not this procedure results in a successful solution of the problem, depends first of all on whether or not the original model reflects the essence of the process under consideration. If it is not the case, no additions, however sophisticated, can bring us to the truth.

The Tunguska event was initially classified as a usual meteorite fall. Its main anomalous feature - the overground character of the explosion - could not be perceived with this assumption in mind. Even after A.P.Kazantsev made out this feature, the "meteorite establishment" tried to convince the scientific community and the reading public that the explosion had been in fact of impact nature. The "disciplinary" values and restrictions proved to be of more importance than the general scientific ones (if we assume that the quest for truth is the main value for science). Formation of an alternative research community, working gratis, from disinterested enthusiasm (that has found its concentrated expression in IITE - the Interdisciplinary Independent Tunguska Expedition - see RB, Vol. 1, No. 3-4, p. 2) has resulted in a much broader freedom of discussion. By the way, this suggests that the "disciplinary values" in science are not purely "ideological".

But if inside this community the problem is now considered with due allowance to its real intricacy, the situation outside it is very different. More often that not (especially for Western scientists), the Tunguska phenomenon serves just as a pretext to build various mathematical models of impact processes in the Solar System, than as a real object of study. This is not useless in itself, but does not open up the way to the solution of this problem. The "logical" rigour of such models sharply contradicts their "empirical looseness".

If we imagine the main alternative ideas of the TSB origin in the form of two "skeletons" (N - "natural": an iron meteorite - a stone meteorite - a comet; A - artificial: an ET spacecraft), then we'll have to admit: the A-skeleton is gradually being filled in with flesh and life, whereas the integrity of the N-skeleton is being maintained only at the cost of ignoring the existing facts. Yes, the N-conception is based on the experience of meteor astronomy, and the A-conception on vague ideas of the "multitude of inhabited worlds". Yes, the former one is logically self-consistent, and the latter rather ambiguous (who can say he has any concrete idea of "possible" parameters of an ET spacecraft?). But the logic of the N-model tends to run counter to the empirical data, accumulated by a few generations of Tunguska researchers, while the "vague" (at first) A-model successfully assimilates these data, assuming a more definite shape.

One of the principal questions, to which the N- and A- conceptions answer in different ways, is the question of whether or not the Tunguska explosion was accompanied by nuclear reactions. Both V.K.Zhuravlev and B.F.Bidyukov, whose papers are published in this RB issue, have come to the same conclusion: it probably was. This result has been obtained independently and - what is very important - by different methods.

Strictly speaking, even if this conclusion proves to be correct, it will be just another argument in favor of the A-hypothesis, rather than its ultimate proof. Adherents of the N-hypothesis will certainly try to look for possible natural mechanisms of such a process. It is not improbable that they will succeed, at least to some extent. But when one model predicts new facts, and the other just tries to explain these facts post hoc, the former one should certainly be preferred.

Just as much, the conclusions reached by G.F.Plekhanov and L.G.Plekhanova in their paper "On a Possible Ricochet of the Tunguska Meteorite" hint at the artificial nature of the Tunguska space body. Although the paper has been written in terms of the N-conception, its results seem to fit naturally into the A-conception. In this case the latter tends however to go beyond the bounds of its simplest form (the catastrophe of an ET spacecraft before its landing on the Earth).

And last but not least, the 90th anniversary Tunguska RB issue appears to be a proper place to pay tribute to the late Dr. Alexey V. Zolotov, whose contribution to the development of the A-hypothesis may be safely called crucially important. Having introduced this hypothesis into science, Zolotov was for a long time looking for traces of the Tunguska nuclear explosion. It is a pity he did not live to see these traces discovered. It is fortunate that his work was not in vain.

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The Tunguska Event - Siberia, 1908