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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Work by two University of Tennessee-Knoxville researchers is featured in the cover story of September’s Discover magazine.

Dr. Evans Lyne, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, and graduate student Richard Fought are cited in the story about a 1908 blast in Siberia that devastated hundreds of square miles.

“Without more information, no one can say what caused the 1908 explosion,” Lyne said.

Russian scientists attribute the huge explosion to a comet, since no fragments of the object have been found.

Most American researchers say it was a stony meteorite from an asteroid. A comet, they contend, would have disintegrated too high up in the Earth’s atmosphere to have caused so much damage.

The UT research found that previous studies had over-estimated how much of an object would burn away in Earth’s atmosphere and that more of the object could get closer to Earth before pressure tore it apart, the article says.

Lyne said Thursday that his study shows a comet could have caused the event, but it doesn’t discount a stony meteorite.

“A comet coming in at a steep enough angle could have exploded low enough to have caused the widespread damage,” Lyne said. “Neither type of body (comet nor stony meteorite) can be pinned down or ruled out as the definite cause of the explosion.”

Lyne said the work helps scientists understand how much damage a meteorite would cause if it hit Earth.

“We need to better understand the physics of objects’ entry into the atmosphere to fully appreciate the risk they actually pose, how large they must be to penetrate the atmosphere and other information,” Lyne said.

Contact: Dr. Evans Lyne (423-974-5254)

Go to “Discover Magazine” article.