Kage Baker would have decreed this a celebration day. A reverent one – not a leap around, drive wildly off to a good bar 100 miles away, set off some nice illegal fireworks a week early kind of day. Because as anniversaries go, this one is mysterious and rather creepy …
Today is the anniversary of the Tunguska Event.
The 104th anniversary, to be precise. But at the time it happened it was rather overlooked in the general affairs of the world. There was a hot World Series competition building up in the USA; the Chicago Cubs would eventually win their second Series title in a row – and never win another one. It was also a Presidential election year in the US, with Taft battling the last really 19th century candidate, Williams Jennings Bryan. Robert Baden-Powell started the Boy Scouts that January, so by June 30th there were presumably hundreds of brand new Boy Scouts camping out all over the wilds of Britain. Henry Ford was about to unleash the first Ford. Robert Perry was getting ready to go look for the North Pole.
So no one really saw what happened, largely due to the fact that the Event happened in Siberia. In Siberia, in summer, most of the inhabitants are trees and mosquitoes and warm-weather hunter-gatherers. Anyone who might have been a direct eye-witness was probably vapourized. Anyone more distant – and there were a lot of those – saw a brief bright light, or felt the shock of the impact, but had no idea what it was. Seismic stations across Europe and Asia registered it – the atmospheric shock wave was strong enough to be felt in Britain. Extravagant sunsets occurred from the dust and ash, and the atmosphere showed a heightened opacity for months. Why a mystery that concerned only a few seismologists and atmospheric scientists.
Oh, and 8 million trees fell over. But no one saw that for years (1921, to be precise. Russia was a little busy … ), since no one hiked out to see until then. But when they did, they found the trees in weird straight lines, arranged in a bulls-eye pattern around the impact site. Where there was, by the way, nothing.
No crater. No impact. No glowing star-stone or shattered alien craft. All there was, all that had ever been there, was a swamp. And the swamp was still there, breeding the famous Siberian man-eating mosquitoes like mad, but offering nothing else in the way of weirdness. Consequently, scientists – and anyone else with an interest in weirdness, actually – has been speculating and arguing over what the heck laid out 8 million trees in a giant star burst ever since.
Popular candidates are: a comet, a meteorite, a black hole, a flying saucer. It had to have exploded before it hit the ground, which would explain why there is no crater – though how long does a crater in a working swamp last, anyway? Still, there’s permafrost somewhere under that seasonal swamp, and geophysics has found no distortion of the land forms underneath. So, it didn’t land, per se.
But other than the fact that it seems to have done its explosive best without ever touching the ground, no one knows very much about it. The reports of high background radiation are no more credible than the similar (and false) reports of radiation in Harappa and Mohenjodero. However, the downed trees and bogs – which are all still there – do yield heightened levels of nickel and iron, silicate and magnetite sphericals, and iridium. All those are the hallmarks of an impact event – or, in this case, a mid-air event that then fell in finely exploded dust over the affected area …
What fascinated and also creeped Kage out was that there was nothing left behind, except those microscopic mineral traces. Something big blew up over Tunguska. It knocked down 8 million trees and covered over a hundred square miles with pulverized stardust. No one saw it. And though the traces left behind do indicate what it probably was … no one knows for sure. There’s nothing left of it; nothing we can find, anyway. If something peculiar is growing or breeding out there, it would be damned hard to be sure, even now. Unless it’s the mosquitoes …
Anyway, it intrigued Kage. She hypothesized several private explanations, of varying degrees of eeriness or goofiness. The explanation she finally put in a story was there to prove a specific, plot-supporting aspect of the structure of Time. It’s not what she actually believed; it was what worked in that story. (The Catch). Later, she was sorry she’d used it up – except that the story was very cool, one of her own favourites.
But she’d have liked to do something else with the Tunguska Event. I told her not to worry, there were plenty of other extinction events and peculiar impact craters: hence The Bohemian Astrobleme. And her own theory on what happened to the dinosaurs, which has not yet seen the light of day. Not that she argued with the Chicxulub Crater. Just with what might have caused it.
We should all mark today with some sort of remembrance. It was a remarkable Event, the sort that would have caused a disaster still mourned had it not occurred over a mosquito-infested swamp in the middle of nowhere. So raise a glass to our joint good fortune tonight! Get bitten by a mosquito! Step in a mud puddle!
And let’s all be grateful we’re not groaning under the yoke of beings from Barnard’s Star or Zeta Reticuli, Dear Readers: or anyone else who had better parking luck than the ones who hit Tunguska 104 years ago.