Arts & Entertainment

It Came from Space

“At about 7:15 on the morning of June 30, 1908,” writes Sophie Pinkham in The New York Review of Books’s June 22 issue, a “bright, mysterious object fell from the sky in a remote area of Siberia, near the Stony Tunguska River.” The ensuing explosion—from what was eventually determined to be a meteorite measuring hundreds of feet in diameter and traveling 34,000 miles an hour—flattened nearly eight hundred square miles of forest, while “entire herds of reindeer were left in charred piles.” In the years that followed, scientists, occultists, novelists, ardent revolutionary Communists, transhumanists, nascent ufologists, and a group of Japanese people looking for their ancestors have made the Tunguska event, as it came to be called, “an object of widespread fascination, thanks to its combination of mystery, rugged wilderness adventure, and hints of the otherworldly and apocalyptic.”

Below, alongside Pinkham’s essay, we have collected five pieces from our archives about the otherworldly and the apocalyptic.

Sophie Pinkham
Fireball Over Siberia

A mysterious 1908 meteorite explosion became the object of widespread fascination and fear decades after it occurred.

Mark O’Connell
Hastening the End

“Even at their most absurd and unlikely, extreme apocalyptic prophesies and their attendant movements can be viewed as symptoms that might assist a diagnosis of underlying civilizational maladies.”

Rich Cohen
The Lure of the White Sands

“How long would it take a spaceship to travel from a distant galaxy—Proxima Centauri, say, where three planets, including one something like our own, orbit a red dwarf a mere 4.2 light years from earth—to New Mexico?”

Rachel Polonsky
Violent, Ecstatic Russians

“Vladimir Sorokin’s Ice Trilogy tells the story of the Brotherhood of Light, 23,000 dispersed rays of Primordial Light, incarnated on Earth in human bodies, whose accidental creation was the ‘Light’s Great Mistake.’… It begins in 1908, with the birth of Alexander Snegirev, the first of the Children of Light to have his heart awakened by cosmic ice from the mysterious Tungus meteorite.”

Frederick C. Crews
The Mindsnatchers

“Misleading optical effects, half-waking dreams, sleep paralysis, tricks of memory, paranoid delusions, temporal lobe lesions, intoxication, fraud, and faddism are abundantly familiar to us, whereas the UFO thesis, even without the added burden of abduction tales, flouts the known laws of nature at every turn.”

James R. Newman
Sharing the Universe

“The basic chemical bricks of life, particularly hydrogen and carbon, are plentiful throughout the universe; complex organic molecules have been discovered on fallen meteorites; there is strong evidence that these molecules have arisen through abiotic processes. Lovell says that there are probably some trillion stars possessing planets in a suitable condition for the support of organic evolution.”

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