A fireball from the blue

We had a hut by the river with my brother Chekaren. We were sleeping. Suddenly we both woke up at the same time. Somebody shoved us. We heard whistling and felt strong wind. Chekaren said, ‘Can you hear all those birds flying overhead?’ We were both in the hut, couldn’t see what was going on outside. Suddenly, I got shoved again, this time so hard I fell into the fire. I got scared. Chekaren got scared too. We started crying out for father, mother, brother, but no one answered. There was noise beyond the hut, we could hear trees falling down.

Chekaren and I got out of our sleeping bags and wanted to run out, but then the thunder struck. This was the first thunder. The Earth began to move and rock, the wind hit our hut and knocked it over. My body was pushed down by sticks, but my head was in the clear. Then I saw a wonder: trees were falling, the branches were on fire, it became mighty bright, how can I say this, as if there was a second sun, my eyes were hurting, I even closed them. It was like what the Russians call lightning. And immediately there was a loud thunderclap. This was the second thunder. The morning was sunny, there were no clouds, our Sun was shining brightly as usual, and suddenly there came a second one!

Chekaren and I had some difficulty getting out from under the remains of our hut. Then we saw that above, but in a different place, there was another flash, and loud thunder came. This was the third thunder strike. Wind came again, knocked us off our feet, struck the fallen trees.

We looked at the fallen trees, watched the tree tops get snapped off, watched the fires. Suddenly Chekaren yelled “Look up” and pointed with his hand. I looked there and saw another flash, and it made another thunder. But the noise was less than before. This was the fourth strike, like normal thunder.

Now I remember well there was also one more thunder strike, but it was small, and somewhere far away, where the Sun goes to sleep.

– Chuchan of the Shanyagir tribe, recalling the events of 1908

112 years ago today, the sky above Siberia exploded.

The blast itself was a thousand times stronger than the atomic bomb that would be dropped on Hiroshima 37 years later. 770 square miles of surrounding forest was levelled by the blast, some 80 million trees felled in an instant. They lay where they fell for decades after, strewn across the ground in their hundreds of thousands, like matchsticks.

The event, named the “Tunguska Incident” after the nearby river, is attributed to a comet or asteroid exploding upon contact with the thicker part of the Earth’s atmosphere. Had the interstellar object had a slightly different trajectory, and struck the sky over a less remote area or a heavily populated city, the casualties would have been enormous. Had the object detonated over London at the time, you’d be looking at a body count in the millions.

That’s why today is international Asteroid Day, promoted by the UN to raise awareness for the risks asteroids pose to the Earth, and to try and raise investment in early-warning systems for asteroid detection.

As with many natural disasters from ages past, there are plenty of alternative theories as to what happened of course. There’s one theory that the whole thing was actually a gigantic natural gas leak that was lit by a lightning bolt, with the flame running into the Earth’s crust and then blowing it up from the inside out.

I remember reading a comic book when I was a kid where it was Nikola Tesla that was responsible for the Tunguska explosion, trying out the “Death Beam” which he claimed he had in real life. A quick Google search confirms there are plenty of people who are fans of the theory, as Tesla said he’d been working on such a device since 1900. There’s something about the mystique of Tesla and his unfinished works which spurs the imagination. It certainly seems to help the stock prices of the companies which name themselves after him, as Exponential Energy Fortunes subscribers discovered recently, with a near 600% gain on $NKLA…

But one can only imagine the kind of chaos that a repeat of Tunguska would create today, even if the impact was limited to the forests of Siberia like last time (Estimates for the Tunguska Incident range between 0 and 3 – the indigenous tribes affected were only contacted and interviewed about their experiences years later; in the case of the above account, 18 years later).

With social media, a 24-hour news cycle, and anyone with an internet connection able to write an account of what’s really going on, how would such an explosion be received? Would it be viewed as a government cover-up, a nuclear test gone wrong, a nuclear war beginning, or even as “fake news”? And what would the market’s response be? Bullish for the tech sector, as the WuFlu has been received?

My colleagues here at Southbank Investment Research are constantly urging me to read the novels of Neal Stephenson, something I have yet to get around to. But the plot of the latest (as Nickolai Hubble has described it as least), where a nuclear explosion occurs and society is divided between who believes it has happened, and who believes it is all a hoax, comes to mind…

The phenomenon of the Tunguska Incident is a fine reminder of just how fundamentally unpredictable the future is – a humbling truth which all investors should remember. 2020 has been a year of chaos, but we’re only halfway through. I expect fate will throw us a fair few more curveballs before this year is done – though hopefully not of the asteroid variety…

Back tomorrow,

Boaz Shoshan
Editor, Capital & Conflict

For charts and other financial/geopolitical content, follow me on Twitter: @FederalExcess.

Category: Market updates

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