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No. 121: Jan-Feb 1999

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Tunguska Afterglow

June 30, July 1-3, 1908. England. We quote from a London cable to the New York Times.

"Several nights through the week were marked by strange atmospheric effects which Dr. Norman Lockyer of the South Kensington Solar Physics Laboratory believes to be a display of the aurora borealis, though personally I have not observed any colored streamers.
"Following sunsets of exceptional beauty and twilight effects remarkable even in England, the northern sky at midnight became light blue, as if the dawn were breaking, and the clouds were touched with pink, in so marked a fashion that police headquarters was rung up by several people, who believed a big fire was raging in the north of London."

(Anonymous; "Like Dawn at Midnight," New York Times, July 5, 1908. Cr. M. Piechota)

Comment. Actually, all of northern Europe saw a succession of very bright nights beginning June 30, 1908. It was even possible to take photographs at midnight. The cause was not the aurora borealis but rather the Tunguska Event (Siberian Meteor) of June 30, 1908. Of course, Western Europe did not know what had happened in Siberia for years. Terrestrial dust from the Tunguska Event that was blasted into the upper atmosphere or perhaps particulate matter accompanying the impacting object (probably a comet) was apparently the cause of the nightime airglow.

From Science Frontiers #121, JAN-FEB 1999. 1999-2000 William R. Corliss