Many modern works of SciFi explain away the Tunguska Event as a result of alien visitation (explosion of a UFO, alien weapon, etc..).

What was the history and progress of this line of explanation?

Who first came up with the idea (and did it originate in a SciFi/fictional work, or outside fiction?)

Was there a time period where it became more widespread in popularity in fiction (e.g. after Rosewell, NM story) as opposed to a rare idea in one or two stories?

Was it always popular in Western SciFi, or only in Russian/Soviet one?

  • I do not know the first mention of this theory, but I suspect The X-Files season 4 episode 8 "Tunguska" had a lot to do with its proliferation. – Meat Trademark Sep 17 '13 at 18:25

I think Alexander Kazantsev with his 1946 "Взрыв" (The Explosion) short story was the first. There he speculates that the explosion was the result of a some malfunction which triggered nuclear chain reaction in the spaceship's engine. Also story features alien woman with the black skin, red hair and the heart on the right side who survived the explosion and then lived there among the Evenk people as a shaman and was able to heal people just by looking at them.

Here you can read about how this story was created and what (Hiroshima bombing) inspired him to write it. The article implies that it is this story is what changed people's mind about Tunguska event as a simple meteor explosion and re-inspired its research.

  • +1 for earliest answer. -10 for mentioning Kazantsev to me :) – DVK-on-Ahch-To Apr 6 '15 at 19:42
  • @DVK, and why is so? – contemplator Apr 6 '15 at 20:02
  • I always hated Kazantsev's work :) – DVK-on-Ahch-To Apr 6 '15 at 20:02
  • I think his early works like Burning Island were good – contemplator Apr 6 '15 at 20:07

The event took place in 1908, but according to a recent article in New Scientist, which is reproduced here, it was not until 1927 that one scientist visited the site and published detailed reports of the devastation. A second expedition was sent in 1958 at the height of the cold war and coinciding with the first reported UFO-sightings. It was the scientists of the 1958 expedition which first concluded that there was no crater but that there had instead been an airburst.

Speculations abounded as to what exactly exploded. With UFO-paranoia abounding it appears that the link was made between Tunguska and UFO's shortly after the reports from the second expedition. The idea must have struck many people independently, both as a story idea and as a fact. As for the latter, it's not unlikely that Russian physicist Viktor Zhuravlyov was among the very first to get the idea. Then a recent graduate, he himself took part in the 1958 expedition and is now convinced the Tunguska event was a space ship exploding after being blasted in a dogfight.


It was a real world theory before it was a science fiction theory.

By 1947, people were wondering if the devastation shown by the 1921 expedition had been a nuclear blast. One of the goals of the 1959 expedition was to check for signs of a nuclear detonation - they couldn't rule out a clean fusion bomb, but were able to rule out a fission bomb based upon then current tests - the damage was too large for a fission bomb to be the cause.

It wasn't until the 1970's that a nuclear detonation was ruled out, due to isotopic analysis showing a lack of radionuclides from either fusion or fission, but fusion as a mechanism is often broken out as an explanation.

Given the mix of incredible high force, low radionuclide, airburst detonation, and particulate deposits, prior to the Shumaker-Levey 9 impacts with Jupiter, there was little evidence that asteroids and comets could airburst. After, it was far more credible. And recently, an asteroid detonation with particulate fallout and airburst explosion was observed in the Chelyabinsk meteor event.

Before these confirmations of blast wave and detonation, the primary theories were some massive airburst bomb of unknown mechanism, asteroids, comets, and extraterrestrial craft with an engine detonation. Some sources claim the alien explanation was floating around in 1947...

Any dismissed theory is grist for authors imaginations; phlogiston theory has been resurrected in recent years with Steampunk literature. The only two particularly plausible theories are an alien ship or a meteor detonation, and the evidence is most strongly in favor of the latter, because "there's no proof of aliens."

So, while broadly dismissed by science, it's still a plausible theory, and one that has half a century of scientists preaching it.

  • This is pretty comprehensive for non-SciFi, but how does this history interact with (factually and time-correllationally) with the idea propagating in SciFi? – DVK-on-Ahch-To Sep 21 '13 at 14:32
  • I agree with @DVK - this provides a good argument that the theory originated outside of fiction, but we'd need to know where it first appeared in fiction (and that it was post-1947) to really answer the question... – KutuluMike Apr 4 '15 at 13:37

Stanislaw Lem describes the Tunguska event as a crasch of a Venusian space ship in his first novel The Astronauts (Astronauci) from 1951.

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