The Tunguska Event

Sophia Dababo, Journalist

Have you ever thought about the next time asteroids hit the Earth? You probably have. Asteroids hit the Earth once around every 60 years. Well, in 2013 a space rock that was about 20 meters wide and weighed about 3000 tons hit the Earth and blew up over the Chelyabinsk Oblast in Russia. Thousands of buildings across 6 different cities in the region experienced shattered windows and over 1000 people were injured, but luckily, nobody was killed. It was an estimated $33 million dollars worth of damage to repair. This was the Chelyabinsk asteroid and it is currently the largest object that has struck Earth in over a century. Now you may be wondering, what asteroid could have struck this planet a century ago that is larger than this asteroid? That was the Tunguska Event, or the Tunguska Asteroid, and that asteroid was a lot bigger, caused a lot more damage and destruction, and just so happened to have also hit Russia. 


Back in 1908, this massive asteroid — at least 3 times larger than the Chelyabinsk Asteroid — entered Earth’s atmosphere and was aimed to land near the Tunguska River, in the incredibly remote forests of Siberia, which back then, was a part of the Russian Empire. This asteroid was traveling about 27 kilometers per second. 5 to 10 kilometers above the surface of the Earth, it is said to have exploded with a tremendous force of around 12 megatons. This was most likely the biggest explosion ever recorded in Earth’s history since the first of March in 1954. 


An estimated 80 million trees were completely flattened across an area with the equivalent size of the country of Luxembourg. An epic shockwave with the power of an earthquake was generated, knocking people off their feet and shattering windows hundreds of kilometers away. The blast was measured as far away as places such as Washington D.C and London. This event left thousands upon thousands of reindeer dead, and who knows what other species of animals were killed in the process and were only found years later. Luckily, Siberia was, and continues to be an extremely remote area. This led to zero confirmed and three possible deaths.


It is very lucky that the asteroid hit in Siberia instead of somewhere less secluded, like New York back in the early 1900’s. Well, let’s imagine what exactly would probably happen if the Tunguska asteroid hit modern day New York. We know it had 30 times the impact as the Hiroshima bombing in Japan, so we can use that as a comparison. As the asteroid would come down into earth’s atmosphere, there would most likely be a massive amount of light as it falls through the sky like a blinding fireball while exploding. To the people looking at the asteroid in New York right underneath it, it would look as if it was a second sun. It could easily blind you if you looked at it for too long. There would be lots of chaos and if the asteroid hit right at Central Park, all of Manhattan would have been destroyed. People up to 65 kilometers away would probably feel so hot as if their clothes were on fire, like the survivors of the Tunguska Asteroid felt. After the first stage of the fireball would come the shockwave, recording for dozens of kilometers from the epicenter and with enough force to knock people off of their feet. Everything within 8 kilometers of the epicenter, will be destroyed, causing total devastation, and complete loss of life. Outside of this span, less intense fires will sprout and will destroy lots and lots of buildings. Minor damage would radiate up to about a thousand miles from the epicenter, impacting people as far away as Minneapolis and Orlando. It would be a devastating disaster that’s impossible for any of us to imagine and one that would surely impact the United States and probably the entire world.