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The Tunguska Event: Eyewitness Account

G. K. Kulesh, Head of the Kirensk Meteorological Station

Letter of 23 June 1908[1]:

On 17 June OS[2] to the NW of Kirensk a phenomenon was observed which lasted approximately from 7:15 to 8 a.m. I did not get to observe it, since, after recording [the readings of] the meteorological instruments, I had sat down to work. I heard hollow sounds, but took them for salvos of weapons fire on the military field beyond the Kirenga river. Having finished work, I glanced at the barograph tape and to my surprise I noticed line after line recorded at 7 a.m. It surprised me because throughout my work I did not get up from my place, the whole family slept, and no one entered the room.[3]

Here is what happened (I pass along the essence of the eyewitnesses’ stories). At 7:15 a.m. there appeared in the northwest a fiery column with a diameter of about four sazhen’[4], in the form of a spear. When the column disappeared, there were heard five strong, abrupt bangs, like from a cannon, following quickly and distinctly one after another; then there appeared in that place a dense cloud. After about 15 minutes the same sort of bangs were heard again, and after another 15 minutes it repeated as well. The ferryman, a former soldier and in general an experienced and knowledgeable person, counted 14 bangs. In keeping with the duties of his job he was on the shore and observed the whole phenomenon from beginning to end. The fiery column was visible to many, but the bangs were heard by an even larger number of people. The peasants form the village nearest the city drive into the city and ask: “What was that? Doesn’t it mean war?” In the city there were also peasants from the village of Karelina, lying 20 versts[5] from Kirensk on the nearer Tunguska river; they pass on that there had been a strong shaking of the ground, such that the [window]glass was broken in the houses.

From other sources it has been passed on that in the mountains seven versts from the village of Karelina a lake formed. According to the peasants’ stories there was a flat place there, a marshy one. Out of that swamp there rose up summer and winter some sort of vapors. And this swamp became a lake. These stories have not been verified.

Now this phenomenon has engendered in the people a mass of the most fantastic stories and suppositions ... It is probably established that a meteor of very enormous dimensions fell, because, in completely clear sunny weather, the column seemed to be of a diameter of four sazhens. There was seen a cloud of gray color, which then turned dark; crashes were heard, 14 in number in three stages; there was a vibration of the ground — the lines on the barograph tape serve as proof of this. Besides this, in the neighborhood of the junior high school there lives the contractor Yashin. He was outside when a board leaning against the fence fell, even though it was completely calm outside. Or, perhaps, there took place a strong shaking of the air, because the last bangs were the most powerful.

According to the story of one inhabitant of Kirensk, he had gone to get something out of a steamer trunk. He had just opened it when crashes resounded and shoved him into the side of the trunk, as if from a strong wind.

Undated supplementary note:

I have received new information about the meteor from students. Two students reported to me that peasants from the village of Bur (on the Pepe river, a tributary of the Tunguska) got the following picture from the Tunguses[6] who were eyewitnesses to the fall of the meteor: When the meteor fell, a dense smoke arose, bangs resounded, the peat and the forest caught fire such that it took the Tunguses three days to put out the blaze.

Note appended to undated questionnaire:

Much has been reported to the Observatory about the former earthquake, although many eyewitnesses along the Lena [river] paid no attention to the earthquake and did not notice it, being astonished by the unusually powerful crashes. Now it has become clear that the crashes were heard in localities far removed from one another; there is fully trustworthy information that there were bangs [heard] in Bodaibo, in Vitim and upstream on the Lena as far as Ust’-Kut, and in Nizhne-Ilimsk. In Nizhne-Ilimsk, the bangs were in the direction of the village of Tub on the Ilim river. The fiery column was seen by many, its shape in the form of a spear has also been established. The smoke or gray cloud which thereafter turned into a dark one was also noted by many. I could not establish when the shaking of glass in the houses made itself felt — before, during, or after the crashes. The most powerful bangs were the last ones, the vibrations of the air were strong. The stories that a lake had formed on the nearer Tunguska and the village of Korelina turned out to be untrue. The peasants of that village were so stunned by the bangs that they sent a deputation to town to the local archpriest to ask if the end of the world wasn’t beginning, [and] how they were preparing for it in Kirensk. That there was a shaking of the ground I was able to conclude from the fact that the barograph marked lines on the tape, and I firmly remember that no one else entered the room and I did not rise from my place, and could not have jarred the instrument. I heard the bangs, but because the windows were closed on the NW and open only on the S, I took the bangs for salvos of weapons fire on the military field.

— translated by Bill DeSmedt

copyright (c) 2004 by amber productions, inc.


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[1] The 23rd of June by the “Old Style” (Julian) calendar then in use in czarist Russia corresponds to the 6th of July in the modern (Gregorian) calendar. [Return to text.]

[2] The 17th of June “OS” (Old Style) corresponds to the 30th of June in the Gregorian calendar. [Return to text.]

[3] Kulesh is referring here to the absence of any of the normal causes of vibration which might have made the barograph’s needle jump. [Return to text.]

[4] One “sazhen’” is about seven feet. [Return to text.]

[5] One “verst” is 3,500 feet. [Return to text.]

[6] “Tungus” is another name for Evenki, the native peoples of the Tunguska region. [Return to text.]


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copyright (c) 2004 by amber productions, inc.