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Space Earth Science

When Comets Attack 79

Red Flayer writes "Popular Mechanics is running a story that describes one of the more interesting explanations for the Tunguska explosion of 1908: 'Now, a controversial new scientific study suggests that a chunk of a comet caused the 5-10 megaton fireball, bouncing off the atmosphere and back into orbit around the sun. The scientists have even identified a candidate Tunguska object — now more than 100 million miles away — that will pass close to Earth again in 2045.' Note that Popular Mechanics' definition of 'close to' is somewhat different than most people's — the comet will be 3.8 million miles away at its closest. At any rate, the key to this theory is that hydrogen and oxygen in the ice shard exploded upon entering the atmosphere, resulting in the difficult-to-explain blast pattern (previous theories contend that the object must have 'skipped' on the atmosphere and then re-entered at the exact same spot). This would also, sadly, dash the theory that Nikola Tesla was responsible."
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When Comets Attack

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  • I thought I heard this years ago.
    • by e9th ( 652576 ) <e9th@NospAM.tupodex.com> on Friday May 08, 2009 @08:41PM (#27884087)
      Maybe you did. Were you in Siberia in 1908?
    • by EdZ ( 755139 )
      You heard that it may have been a comet. What is new here is the theory of it's origin (cast off from a gas giant moon's crust) and composition (containing bubbles of hydrogen and oxygen).
      • I would think that if a comet was close enough to earth to bounce off it, that it would have been quite large to the eye, and LOTS of people would have seen it. A simple google query reveal no mass sightings of a comet, which are typically visible for weeks at a time.

        A large flash was seen, but no precedent reports of any significant comets.

        OK I guess it could be a really, really tiny comet.

        • That would be true if the comet was visible in the night sky, but if it was only visible in the day sky it wouldn't be so noticeable. if the weather was cloudy it might even be unobservable.

        • by EdZ ( 755139 )
          Really tiny, high velocity, and pretty much tailless (as is likely if it was a shard of icy crust rather than accreted from stellar dust).
    • the story or the explosion? Please clarify.

  • IOW (Score:5, Funny)

    by T Murphy ( 1054674 ) on Friday May 08, 2009 @08:18PM (#27883923) Journal
    The sun's trying to start a snowball fight.
    • Re: (Score:1, Redundant)

      by dimeglio ( 456244 )

      Maybe some cosmic being was skipping rocks. "Bet I can hit that blue one and make it skip around that star."

  • Fools! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Chris Burke ( 6130 ) on Friday May 08, 2009 @08:24PM (#27883961) Homepage

    It was the great Nikola Tesla who summoned the comet in the first place!

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      In Soviet Russia, Tesla summons you!


      Please don't kill me.

    • Tesla was a brilliant man. If he wanted to summon a comet, he would find a way. If he wanted to destroy a remote area of Siberia without a comet, he would find a way. The man was without limits in thought and imagination, only resources.
    • by dhfx ( 988710 )
      not Tesla - more like Velikovsky.
  • by ChrisCampbell47 ( 181542 ) on Friday May 08, 2009 @08:25PM (#27883969)
    This artist's rendition of the explosion [planetary.org] graced the back cover of this month's The Planetary Report (from The Planetary Society [planetary.org]). It illustrates how the bolide likely blew up above the ground and hence produced no crater. The artist is Don Davis.
  • by mister_playboy ( 1474163 ) on Friday May 08, 2009 @09:01PM (#27884221)

    I think this is one of the great what-ifs of recent history... what if this event took place in a populated area, rather than in the Siberian woodlands? We still don't know what happened today, so how would people have dealt cognitively with it back in 1908 if thousands or even millions had died?

    I find it intriguing to consider.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The same way that they did when various plagues (Spanish Flu 1918, Black Death 1350) , enemy attacks (WW2 on all sides, Coventry, Dresden, Berlin, London, Tokyo & Hiroshima ).

      People cope with it in various ways. Mass death is nothing new, unfortunately.

      • by mister_playboy ( 1474163 ) on Friday May 08, 2009 @09:37PM (#27884435)

        The main distinction of this event would have been the sudden impact of it... total destruction in the blink of an eye; whichis distinct from the slow "creeping death" of a plague. Unlike war, this would obviously seem to not be the work of human foes... what would the cause be ascribed to? God? Aliens? Would people be okay with the cause being "improbable interstellar event"?

        I just think it could have greatly impacted the values of the 20th century... would science be more important? Would people be even more superstitious? There are lots of possibilities.

        • > what would the cause be ascribed to? God? Aliens?

          Meteors. It happened in 1908, not 1408.

        • by smoker2 ( 750216 ) on Friday May 08, 2009 @09:55PM (#27884539) Homepage Journal
          What would the Japanese have thought of Hiroshima if the US hadn't told them what it was ? This was 1908 not 1608. They did have some idea, they even went looking for the iron from the meteorite.
          • The Japanese were well aware of what had happened to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They had people working on an atomic bomb as well but they were barely scratching the surface of what needed to be done as they just did not have the industrial capacity.

            • We constantly hear this. The [Japanese, Germans] did not have the industrial capacity to [develop a nuclear bomb, train pilots, build warships]. Well, why not? The U.S. developed the nuclear bomb with talent plus a tiny fraction of its industrial capacity. Japan and Germany each had more than half the U.S. population. Why were they so feeble?

              And don't give me a bunch of crap about free enterprise. Keep it real.

              • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

                I never heard anything about the Germans not having the resources to build an a-bomb, but the Japanese had been prosecuting a war for some years before the americans intervened. This left them at a disadvantage.

                From wikipedia [wikipedia.org]:

                "Over the course of the Pacific War, the economies of Japan and its occupied territories all suffered severely. Inflation was rampant; prices in Japan in 1944 were 3.25 times higher than in 1936.[citation needed] Japanese heavy industry, forced to devote nearly all its production to m

                • You need to enrich your material from which to make your bomb. That costs money and resources, if you have enough raw material at a good enough purity making a bomb (not an efficient one) is actually not that hard. But getting weapons grade material is not easy.
                • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                  by tjstork ( 137384 )

                  Of course, every sentence says "citation needed" after it

                  Actually, its pretty accurate. Japan was hurting economically before the war even began. The USA stopped selling Japan raw materials, like steel and oil were cut off, and in response the Japanese extended the imperial drive into the resource rich pacific.

                  But even then you have to keep in mind that the industrial japan of world war II was nowhere near the industrial japan of today. The GDP of Japan was a fraction of that of the USA and to some exten

        • We might have had a space program sooner. Development of nuclear bombs might have been accelerated by a decade or so. Perhaps somebody might have tried to fly an orion pulse rocket in the 1950s. Sounds like a great Heinlein revival story. I had better call John Varley...
        • It's 1908, not 1108. Two years earlier an earthquake demolished San Francisco and people weren't blaming aliens for that, so why would this be any different?

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 08, 2009 @09:08PM (#27884269)

      What if Siberia were a great metropolis before this? Don't believe the lies!

    • if it had been a couple hours off, it could've taken out lenin.
      • by kmike ( 31752 )

        Maybe you mean Russian Tzar?
        You see, Lenin came to power only in late 1917...

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by adavies42 ( 746183 )
          at which point he'd been hanging around various parts of western russia and eastern europe for nearly forty years....
          • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

            by kmike ( 31752 )

            Alas - Lenin was in Geneva in 1908. Hardly Western Russia, or even Eastern Europe.

            BTW, I think the GP means that if the explosion was off a few hours, it would have happened almost exactly over St. Petersburg - a capital of Russia back then.

    • by T Murphy ( 1054674 ) on Saturday May 09, 2009 @12:59AM (#27885659) Journal
      Had it hit a heavily populated area we would have a lot more data than a bunch of trees in the middle of nowhere and the reports from peasants. It was over a decade before a scientist went out there- Russian mineralogist Leonid Kulik in 1921 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tunguska_event [wikipedia.org]. I would say there is a strong chance we would know what the thing actually was, which would allow for a calmer reaction than uneducated peasants fearing the apocalypse.

      Now, if it hit a major city during the cold war, it may have triggered a nuclear holocaust...
    • by Peji ( 1430345 )
      we would attack Iraq.
  • Wait a minute... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Jane Q. Public ( 1010737 ) on Friday May 08, 2009 @11:41PM (#27885157)
    all these comet theories are great, but how to they explain the extra Carbon 14 found in tree rings in that area, for that year? (The trees that hadn't been blown down, of course.)

    Source: Encyclopedia Britannica
    • Obviously, this proves that Tesla did it. He had a number of theories about radiocarbon14 waves, you know. That big antenna he was working on, probably could have altered the carbon.

  • by kmike ( 31752 ) on Saturday May 09, 2009 @01:32AM (#27885817)

    It was shown back in 1966 that the butterfly shape of the fallen trees may be caused by the several explosions combined with the ballistic wave.

    The Russian researchers built a model of the site (1:10000), with explosion modeled by an explosive cord with an explosive charge at the end. The forest model was built from the tiny flexible wires with plastic crowns.

    They have shown that placing the cord at some inclination angle (close to 30 degrees) the impact shape was clearly resembling the butterfly shape of Tunguska event.

    The abstract (in Russian) is here:
    http://tunguska.tsc.ru/ru/science/conf/1966/zotkin/ [tunguska.tsc.ru]

  • The FA talks about the comet having a 'host planet' around which it orbited long enough for the 'host planet's' magnetic field to electrolyse the water in the comet into hydrogen and oxygen. It was the ignition of the hydrogen that is claimed to have causes the explosion. Possible of course but it seems a bit of a stretch to me. Occam's razor and all.
    • Where in Russia do they come up with all of these people with such theories?

      Suppose the impactor is a comet. Approaching any collision with the Earth, it will have a velocity of about the Earth's escape velocity or even exceeding that.

      OK, using liquid H2 and LOX, why don't we build single stage rockets that are able to reach Earth escape velocity? Because orbital velocity let alone escape velocity gives an object a kinetic energy that is large compared to the chemical energy in the hydrogen-oxygen bon

  • It was me, that day I had 2 bean burritos, and happened to be in the area when I had a major attack of gas. And the extinction of the dinosaurs that was me again. I really need to stop it with the bean burritos but they are just so damn good.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      That still doesn't explain the semen bubbles that erupt from your anus every time you fart.
  • Sandia Labs (the same group that does nuclear simulations) did work on this several years ago. They produced some excellent simulations of asteroid explosions, and their effects in the admosphere and on the ground.

    A summary with some great videos is posted here:
    http://www.sandia.gov/news/resources/releases/2007/asteroid.html [sandia.gov]

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Does anyone recall the the interviews done of the people in the area after the blast.

    There was a reporter/documentarian that went over there and talked to the locals.

    They talked about a metallic cavern 150 miles away from tunguska that was persistently radioactive.

    The older guys talked about it shooting plasma balls into the sky after they noticed it charging up for a month. And they noticed this because it would kill off more stuff around it.

    Mainly, it looked like a defense grid that had the nasty side ef

Exceptions prove the rule, and wreck the budget. -- Miller