I've now decided how I want to die. I want to be killed by a meteorite.
Last week, a big chunk or rock and/or metal slammed through the sky above Russia, blasting out windows and injuring thousands. While this is, of course, a terrible tragedy, at least it's one with some grandeur. It's no petty sink hole or flood, it's death from space!
Unfortunately, my best chance for being killed by a meteorite happened more than a century ago. It was also in Russia, as it happens, in a remote region of Sibera known as Tunguska.
The Tunguska Event may not technically have been a meteorite (which hits the ground in at least one piece) but it was definitely a meteor (which flies through the sky, leaving a visible trail).
In fact, it was visible across a vast swathe of Asia and Europe. Observers at the time, who included officials and townspeople hundreds of miles away, and tribal reindeer herders much closer, described the event variously as being shoved around by a mysterious force, a sound of artillery and underground trains, hot winds, thunder, and the sensation that the ground was being hit by large rocks.
That was in 1908, and it wasn't until the early 1920s that Soviet scientists managed to hack their way through hundreds of miles of boggy forest to find the site of the blast.
What they found was massive devastation: a core of scorched trees (superstitiously avoided by the locals) surrounded by about 2,000 square kilometres of fallen trees.
No single piece of a meteorite from the Tunguska Event has ever been found, which has inspired suggestions that perhaps some-thing other than mere space rocks were to blame.
Actual cause of the Tunguska Event: probably a sizeable meteor that exploded in midair, unleashing an atomic-bomb sized blast.
. Tiny black hole tunneling through Earth.
. Alien spacecraft, either crashing, blowing up, or getting royally pissed off at a reindeer and deciding to zap Rudolf.
. Wandering chunk of anti-matter hitting the upper atmosphere. Shame it didn't land on Dan Brown.
. Nikola Tesla.
The last is my favourite explanation, because it lets me use the phrase "death ray." Tesla, who invented alternating current and was thus also partially responsible for the greatest Australian rock band of all time, had built a sizeable tower just before 1908, to be used for transmitting radio waves, and, you know, vast amounts of electricity through
the air. Then in the 1930s he started talking up his plans for an anti-aircraft gun based on shooting charged particles, blab blah blah physics blah blah DEATH RAY!
He was completely serious about this. However, in his later years it was hard to tell whether he was still a brilliant, madcap inventor or just mad. The man's pigeon fixation was getting pretty bad by then.
So it's fairly unlikely that he created the Tunguska Event.
Anyway, Tunguska wasn't the biggest meteor to blast a hole in the planet, not by a long shot. Everyone knows about the dinosaur killer, the Chixulub comet that slammed into the Yucatan about 66 million years ago.
But there were bigger ones even than that. Ever been to Sudbury? About 1.8 billion years ago, a rock hit that spot, leaving a 250-kilometre-wide crater. If there had been life more complicated than slime, that would have punched its ticket. We'd all be dead if it happened now, but what a way to go.
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