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BOOK REVIEW: The Tunguska Mystery

By Paul Wang —

Something extraordinary happened over the Tunguska forest in central Siberia on 30 June 1908, and much has been published about just what this massive explosion might have been. There are few accessible books available outside Russia: 1977 saw the publication of The Fire Came By, by John Baxter and Thomas Atkins; The Tungus Event, by Rupert Furneaux; and Tunguska: Cauldron of Hell, by Jack Stonely. Surendra Verma’s The Tunguska Fireball (2005) provided a good overview of the mystery, but concluded that the jury is still out.

Now we have Vladimir Rubtsov’s excellent The Tunguska Mystery, edited by Edward Ashpole, author of the admirable 1995 UFO Phenomena. Rubtsov received his PhD from Moscow’s Institute of Philosophy of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR for his 1980 thesis “Philosophical and Methodological Aspects of the Problem of Extraterrestrial Civilizations,” the first of its kind in the former USSR. In 1991, he also published UFOs and Modern Science as an introduction to the UFO problem for the Soviet scientific community.

“We hoped it would be just the first work in a series and therefore did not try to cover in the book all aspects of the UFO problem. Alas, immediately after it was published, the Soviet Union disintegrated and all hopes for serious work in this direction have dissolved too. Now science in Russia and Ukraine is trying to survive, rather than to develop. Nevertheless, I think that one day in the future the situation may change. Individual interest in the UFO phenomenon among our scientists still remains considerable.”

Dr. Rubtsov researched the Tunguska mystery for 35 years, and the strength of his new book lies in this dedication and persistence. Unlike previous Western accounts, The Tunguska Mystery is anchored in the vast amount of research carried out in Russia over the last 100 years, much of it unseen by Western researchers. Richly documented and illustrated, it presents the facts and controversy uncovered by Russian researchers exceptionally well.

Rubtsov also addresses significant Western work on the subject, such as the blast magnitude computation modelling from Sandia National Lab scientists Drs. Boslough and Crawford, who argued for a lower magnitude event. Rubtsov stresses that such arguments are of limited value until they properly consider the topography of the Tunguska site; the Sandia scientists plan to try to undertake this work.

Rubtsov makes a critical point, arguing: “the members of the Tunguska research community in Russia, Ukraine, and other CIS countries, although far from uniform in their viewpoints on the phenomenon… do have a grasp of the real contents of this problem, whereas their Western colleagues are as a rule dealing with its simplified and perhaps distorted pictures. Too many well-established facts have been forgotten, too much information is ignored, lots of important publications remain unknown in the West – partly because of the language barrier. Besides, today’s typical scientific over specialization hampers the interdisciplinary perception of the Tunguska phenomenon. At best, the researcher knows that there is in Siberia an area of leveled forest, having at the same time no idea of other Tunguska traces – both larger (the light burn and the geomagnetic storm) and smaller (from genetic mutations to the paleomagnetic anomaly) or of other ‘details’ of this event.”

Despite the Western scientific consensus that the Tunguska event was due to a meteorite, asteroid or similar natural space object, Dr. Rubtsov argues with compelling data that such certainty is unjustified.

Instead, he asks: “Why has such a rich set of empirical information not yet been transformed into an accurate and rational theoretical scheme explaining this phenomenon? Logic, discipline of reasoning, ability to match theoretical considerations with factual material – all these are important in the next stage of scientific investigation, the stage of testing the proposed ideas.”

It is fascinating and very informative to follow Rubtsov’s consideration of exotic explanations such as “artificial” objects, even extraterrestrial ones – though these may be no more “final solutions” than their mainstream counterparts.

The critical process elaborated in this book is the development of “the multidisciplinary model of the Tunguska phenomenon”. The necessity of determining the true answer that fits that model is critical.

Indeed, it is a matter of survival – another Tunguska-style event would be devastating if it occurred over a populated area.

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