We are extraordinary lucky that the single largest impact event on Earth in recorded history happened in one of the most sparsely populated areas of the globe. On June 30, 1908, near the Stony Tunguska River in what was then the Russian Empire, an explosion leveled 2,000 square kilometers of forest.
The force of the explosion was about 1,000 times greater than the explosive power of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945 (but only a third as powerful as the Soviet Union's Tsar Bomba, tested on October 30, 1961). Much has been written about the Tunguska explosion, but most hypotheses generally agree that it was caused by the air burst of a meteor, possibly an asteroid or comet.
Some 80 million trees were felled by the event. The remoteness of the area was such that the first scientific expedition occurred only a decade after it had happened.
It is likely that the force of the explosion would have destroyed a major metropolitan area if the Earth had been less fortunate; what happened at Tunguska served to start a discussion about avoiding asteroid impacts.
Photographer: Leonid Kulik
Location taken: near Tunguska River, Russia
- 1908-06-30 A giant fireball, most likely caused by the air burst of a large meteoroid or comet flattens 80 million trees near the Stony Tunguska River in Yeniseysk Governorate, Russia, in the largest impact event in recorded history