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The site of the 1908 Tunguska Event 90 years later.
Credit: University of Bologna

Soapbox Seminar #13

The Vurdalak Conjecture

It’s been a long time coming. but we’re almost home now, almost to where we can finally see our new interpretation of the 1908 Tunguska Event all in one piece.

Those of you who’ve been following right along from the get-go will maybe recall how we started out wondering what made the cometary and meteorite camps each so all-fired sure of themselves, when they couldn’t both be right. From there, we met up with a couple of Texans, Al Jackson and Mike Ryan, who tried to see the Tunguska problem in a new light, and wound up taking a lot of heat for it.

To give Al and Mike a fairer shake, we first had to lay out what a black hole is, and what’s inside of one. We took a little detour to gaze in on the universe’s strangest object, and then out the other side to a time before time began, to witness the birth of primordial black holes at the beginning of everything. It was only then that we saw what was missing from our simple, “no-hair” picture of black holes: They weren’t just a one-way trip to oblivion; black holes could leak. More: they might even be magnetic!

So, where does all that leave us? Maybe nowhere.

Or maybe, just maybe, with a whole new take on the “Tunguska Paradox.”

Because, when all’s said and done, there aren’t but two really solid objections to the Jackson-Ryan hypothesis — the theory that it was a tiny black hole hit the earth that summer morning in June 1908. And neither of those objections is exactly what you’d call proof positive that Jackson-Ryan’s got to be wrong. Instead, they’re both negative arguments, focused on two things that should have been observed if Al and Mike were right. Should have been, but weren’t.

Those two things are thermal/seismic effects and an “exit event.”

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Last updated October 31st, 2004  7:14 AM

  • The Russian word for “vampire” or “werewolf”?
  • A poem by Aleksandr Pushkin?
  • A short story by Alexei Tolstoy?
  • A Moscow rock band?
  • One third of Mario Bava’s 1963 Black Sabbath trilogy, starring Boris Karloff?

All of the above, and more.

Because, for reasons that’ll come clear in due course, Vurdalak is the name we’ve given to a new theory
of what caused one of the most cataclysmic, and most mysterious, phenomena in recorded history — the Tunguska Event of 1908.

In the early morning hours of June 30th 1908, the peace of Central Siberia’s remote Stony Tunguska river basin was shattered by an enormous explosion. In the words of one eyewitness, “Suddenly the sky was split in two, and high above the forest the whole north of the sky was covered with fire.” (For an imaginative reconstruction of the Event itself, click here.)

The Tunguska blast scorched and toppled ancient Siberian forests across an area half the size of Rhode Island. Its shockwave traveled around the globe twice — twice! — and the glow from sunlight scattering off its high-altitude debris lit the midnight skies over northern Europe for the next month. Had it not occurred in one of the most desolate spots on the face of the globe, it might have left half a million people dead or dying.

As it was, all it left were two thousand square miles of smoldering devastation, and one enduring mystery …

what caused it?

… an updated version of a crazy idea proposed over thirty years ago. And a crazy idea in its own right.

It was back in the summer of 1973 that two U. Texas astrophysicists, Albert A. Jackson IV and Michael P. Ryan, Jr. proposed their so-called “Jackson-Ryan hypothesis” — namely, that what struck the earth on June 30, 1908 was nothing other than …

… a tiny black hole, smaller than
an atom, heavier than a mountain, older than the stars.

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