On February 15, 2013, a meteor apparently exploded in the air over Russia. Since then, many have said it was the largest meteor explosion in Earth’s atmosphere since the Tunguska event – also in Russia – in 1908. The February 15, 2013 event broke windows in buildings in the city of Chelyabinsk and injured over 1,000 people. The 1908 meteor explosion over Siberia – often called the Tunguska event – didn’t result in human injuries, but it did kill reindeer and flatten some 2,000 square kilometers of Siberian forest. Earth was a less populated world then, and it wasn’t until 1927 that Leonid Kulik led the first Soviet research expedition to investigate the Tunguska event. But the expedition didn’t result in confirmed meteorite fragments, and, over the years, an aura of mystery surrounded the 1908 meteor explosion.
Then today (May 2, 2013), scientists announced the existence of possible fragments from the Tunguska explosion, found 25 years ago. A press release today in MIT Technology Review centered on the work of Andrei Zlobin of the Russian Academy of Sciences, who has in his possession three rocks from the Tunguska region with the telltale characteristics of meteorites. If these rocks are indeed fragments of the 1908 Tunguska meteor, they will help clear up an astronomical mystery that’s been on the books for over 100 years.
Zlobin’s story reads a bit like that of Leonid Kulik in 1927. Zlobin also led an expedition to Siberia to study the Tunguska explosion site. His expedition was in 1988, and, during it, he and his team discovered the rock fragments, along with about 100 other interesting stones, while exploring the bed of Siberia’s Khushmo River. Afterwards, Zlobin returned to Moscow, where, for unexplained reasons, he waited 20 years to examine his haul in detail. In 2008, he sorted the collection and found three stones with clear evidence of melting and regmalypts, thumblike impressions found on the surface of meteorites which are caused as the hot rock falls through Earth’s atmosphere at high speed.
Zlobin hasn’t yet carried out a detailed chemical analysis of the rocks that would reveal their chemical and isotopic composition. But he and his team are now confident enough that the rocks are fragments of the Tunguska meteor that they have published their work online in arxiv.
Bottom line: Andrei Zlobin of the Russian Academy of Sciences announced today (May 2, 2013) that he has found stones that might be fragments of the meteor that exploded over Russia on June 30, 1908. If these are fragments of the Tunguska meteor, the stones will help clear up a 100-year-old astronomical mystery.
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.