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Siberia believed to be site of largest meteor impact on Earth

Present-day Tunguska, Russia  
July 3, 1998
Web posted at: 10:03 p.m. EDT (0203 GMT)

MOSCOW (CNN) -- On June 30, 1908, an enormous fireball crashed to the ground in the remote Siberian region of Tunguska, destroying a huge swath of ancient growth forest.

Russian scientists believe this was the largest meteorite to fall to Earth in the past 2,000 years.

"A majority of scientists lean toward the theory that it was a collision from a large interplanetary body," said Professor Valeri Shuvalov of the Russian Institute of Geosphere Dynamics.

But the scientists have so far been unable to explain why the huge interplanetary body did not leave any fragments behind.

The only people to see the massive explosion were the Evenki people, reindeer herders indigenous to Siberia. They believed the explosion was caused by a revengeful "lord of thunder."

Regardless, researchers are hoping that the Tunguska event can help them better prepare for future meteor collisions.

Scientists have charted about 500 meteors near the Earth's orbit and estimate that 100 of those are potentially dangerous.

Some scientific ideas to prevent a catastrophic crash sound much more like something out of a Hollywood movie script.

Says astrophysicist Mikhail Smirnov of the Russian Institute of Astronomy: "If we know at least 15 years in advance that an asteroid will impact with Earth, then we could send an expedition up to it and redirect its course with the help of a controlled atomic explosion."

Reuters contributed to this report.

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