Meteorite Hunter: The Search for Siberian Meteorite Craters

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9780071372244: Meteorite Hunter: The Search for Siberian Meteorite Craters

On the morning of June 30, 1908, a fireball cascaded down the Siberian sky and exploded with 2000 times the force of the nuclear blast that devastated Hiroshima, Japan. Weighing some 100,000 metric tons, the cosmic missile cut into the atmosphere and shattered in a rapid series of bursts, felling trees and incinerating an area of 2150 square miles - now known as the Tunguska "event." In the spring of 1992, Roy Gallant was invited by the Siberian branch of the National Academy of Sciences to take part in the annual Tunguska Expedition, to investigate this largest meteorite explosion in human history. The first American to participate in this expedition, Gallant thus began his mission as meteorite hunter. From Tunguska, he has since explored the major impact craters of Russia, including: Sikhote-Alin, a strewn field site infested with venomous snakes, brown bears, and Siberian tigers; the site of the famous Pallas Meteorite (namesake for the pallasite class of meteorites); and the enormous Popigai crater. Exploded some 30-40 million years ago, the Popigai crater is 100 kilometers in diameter, similar to the Chicxulub crater event that wiped out the dinosaurs in a planet-wide catastrophe.

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The "Indiana Jones of Astronomy" takes us on a crater-hopping tour of Siberia's major meteor impact sites.

On the morning of June 30, 1908, a fireball cascaded down the Siberian sky and exploded with 2000 times the force of the atomic blast that devastated Hiroshima. The cosmic missile shattered in a rapid series of bursts, felling trees and incinerating an area seven times the size of New York City. Shaking an enormous region of Siberia to its bedrock, the explosion rattled vodka bottles 500 miles away and sent pressure waves twice around the planet. Today, the "Tunguska event," as it has since been dubbed, continues to rattle the world with its unsolved mysteries. No one knows what exactly exploded that morning over the tundra. Was it a stony asteroid or a comet's nucleus? Or something altogether different? In the spring of 1992, as the first American invited by the Russian Academy of Sciences, Professor Emeritus Roy Gallant set out to confront that mystery­­and to begin his mission as meteorite hunter across the depth and breadth of Siberia.

Taking readers on a thrilling adventure to the major meteorite impact sites of the wild and desolate Russian interior, Roy Gallant, a.k.a. the "Indiana Jones of Astronomy," braves the inhospitable tundra and dense taiga forests, hiking through swarms of blood-sucking insects and the treacherous territories of tigers, wolves, vipers, and the great Siberian bear (with footprints the size of dinner platters) to investigate the craters and strewn fields left behind by those enigmatic cosmic intruders. From our starting point at Tunguska, Gallant leads us across a forbidding land, introducing us to its good people and lovely flora and fauna. Crater-hopping our way across Siberia, we visit the Sikhote-Alin field, site of the "meteorite shower of the century"; the fall site of the famous Pallas Iron, the grandaddy of meteorites; and the enormous Popigai Crater, more than 35-million-years old and greater in impact than Tunguska by a factor of a million­­enough to cause global catastrophe.

Until now, comprehensive accounts of these sites, and the others included here, have appeared mainly, or only, in Russian journals. Meteorite Hunter brings their stories­­and the science behind them to English-speaking audiences, often for the first time. Armed with his own expertise and a wealth of eyewitness details, Gallant presents a rare and eye-opening exploration of Siberia's famed meteorites, from the early history of meteoritics to our current struggles to track and intercept the deadly cosmic missiles that spin in dark orbits closer to Earth than most of us realize.

"And there fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp."­­Revelations viii, 10

"The explosions were heard in the early morning hours of June 30, 1908 when most farmers were already at work in their fields. It was a drama that has occurred countless times in Earth's geological history and one that surely will play again. But to those unsuspecting peasants, it seemed that the end of the world had come.

The Tungus tribespeople and Russian fur traders who happened to glance into the Siberian sky that fateful morning were puzzled on seeing a distant bright spot, a "second Sun," approach out of the cloudless southeastern sky, and rapidly grow larger. Their puzzlement then turned to horror as the spot billowed into a monstrous fireball brighter than the Sun, streaking down through the atmosphere and dragging a long trail of light...Then it exploded...

That is what I knew about the Tunguska explosion when, in July of 1992, I set out for Siberia to find out more about the mysterious event."­­from Meteorite Hunter [Chapter 1]

From the enigmatic Tunguska, Roy Gallant, a.k.a. "The Indiana Jones of Astronomy," takes us crater-hopping across the wild and desolate Russian interior, for a rare and eye-opening exploration of Siberia's infamous meteorite impact sites. Braving the inhospitable tundra and dense taiga forests, hiking through swarms of blood-sucking insects and the treacherous territories of tigers, wolves, vipers, and the great Siberian bear (with footprints the size of dinner platters), we investigate several major sites, including: the Sikhote-Alin field, site of the "meteorite shower of the century;" the fall site of the famous Pallas Iron, the grandaddy of meteorites; and the enormous Popigai Crater, more than 35-million-years old and greater in impact than Tunguska by a factor of a million­­enough to cause global catastrophe and mass extinction. Along the way, Gallant introduces us to the forbidding country itself, its good people, and its strange and lovely flora and fauna. Together, with our intrepid guide, we will attempt to unravel the mysteries of the cosmic intruders that have split the sky and fallen, unbidden, to Earth.

About the Author:

Professor Emeritus Roy A. Gallant has been digging around in Siberian meteorite impact sites for the past decade. Director of the Southworth Planetarium at the University of Southern Maine, Gallant has taught astronomy at his home university, the Maine College of Art, for twentyyears. He was formerly a member of the faculty of New York's Hayden Planetarium. His many books on science and astronomy have earned him the John Burroughs Award for nature writing and the Thomas Alva Edison Foundation award for science writing, and a lifetime achievement award from the Maine Library Association. A Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society of London and a member of the New York Academy of Sciences, Gallant makes his home in Rangeley, Maine.

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