On the other side of the world, there is great interest in the Great Meteor of Great Whale. A leading Russian scientist breathlessly contacted The Nation asking about the new bay north of Whapmagoostui (“Meteor Bay”).

Andrei Ol’khovatov is a physicist who works at the Radio Instrument Industry Research Institute, in Moscow. “It is a defense enterprise, so I can’t detail,” he explained mysteriously.

Now, we have been invited to attend an international meteor conference this summer in Krasnoyarsk, Russia, which is being organized by the Russian Academy of Science.

Ol’khovatov is an expert on the last great meteor impact on Earth, which happened on June 30, 1908, in remotest Tunguska, Russia. He believes it was actually caused not by a meteor or comet, as most scientists believe, but by a massive earthquake and explosion. Needless to say, his theories are a little outside the mainstream of meteor experts and politely called “exotic.”

On that day, exactly 89 years before the Great Whale “event,” a huge fireball crashed through the morning sky over Siberia, followed by an explosion with the force of 1,000 Hiroshima A-bombs. Herds of caribou were incinerated, along with tens or thousands of evergreens across hundreds of square kilometres. A tree was knocked down 1,000 kilometres away. For days, and for thousands of kilometres, the sky remained bright with an eerie orange glow. As far away as western Europe, people could read newspapers at night without a lamp.

Scientists first visited the remote swampy area of Tunguska only 19 years later. They witnessed a scene of utter devastation, with scorched trees lying in rows that stretched to the horizon. But there was no crater! If you saw the movie Deep Impact, this was Shallow Impact. All they found were witnesses in nearby villages who told of a fireball in the sky, horrifying noise and a blast that knocked people off their feet.

Since then, the mystery of Tunguska has spawned all sorts of bizarre theories. Alexander Kazantsev, a Soviet engineer and army colonel, suggested in 1946 that only an exploding alien craft could have caused this calamity. A popular book called Guest From Space later came out expanding on this theory.

All sorts of theories are circulating about what happened at Tunguska, but one of the more unusual ones is Ol’khovatov’s. He says earthquakes sometimes do more than simply shake the ground. They can also release lightning-like flashes and sounds like whistles, hisses and hums. An earthquake at Tunguska may have released its energy as electrical flashes that could have burned the trees. Ol’khovatov checked the eyewitness accounts and saw they reported discharges of light from the ground, which are more consistent with an earthquake than a falling object.

Also, the “fireballs” seen falling toward the area actually run along fault lines in the Earth, while the epicentre is right in the middle of an ancient volcanic crater.

What does Ol’khovatov think of the Great Whale “event”? Ol’khovatov sends this analysis over the Internet:

“I was able to look at your pictures. In general, there could be three types of events: collapse crater (i.e. groundfall), landslide or explosive event. Your data don’t resemble collapse (at least, pure collapse) because during collapse, especially the shallow one, a little is ejected upwards.

“Landslide is possible, but it seems to me that the level of the slope is too gentle to produce such a powerful event. And, of course, the ‘crater’ in the water contradicts it, as well as ejected material…

“All the data I have till now point that it was a geophysical event. Its physical mechanism is unknown, but roughly speaking, it is an explosion of ball-lightning-like formation of endogenic origin (not from space).” In other words, an earthquake and explosion that caused lights to flash in the sky.

In a later e-mail, Ol’khovatov added: “Unfortunately, such events used to be ignored, as their researchers can’t explain them (as ‘your’ event). So the majority of scientific society is unaware of such events (‘meteorite or nothing!’).”

But what about that strange “coincidence” that the Tunguska and Great Whale “earthquakes” both happened at exactly the same time of the year? It just so happens that everyjune and November, the Earth passes through a hail of cometary debris known as the Taurid shower. Coincidence? I think not.

First, NASA came sniffing around. Now, the Russians. The probe continues… Our diversare deep in training.

Editor’s note: These are headlines that were proposed for the meteor story by The Nation staff. Please circle your choice and send it in. Your suggestions welcome.

Bayday! Bayday!

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Do Not Adjust the Vertical, Do Not Adjust the Horizontal Bay Day Meteor Clearance Wham, Bam, Thank-You, Great Whale Shablam!



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