Meteorite or Martians? Public engagement at the Moscow Planetarium in 1948

Activity: Talk or presentation typesInvited talk


Should scientists use fiction to engage and energise the public? BBC TV’s recent First Contact: An Alien
Encounter made it difficult for viewers to distinguish astronomers from actors and NASA’s lavishly
illustrated travel posters raised expectations of habitable exoplanets. This paper explores an
unsuccessful attempt to convert public fascination with UAPs into understanding of evidence-based
scientific investigation. “The Mystery of the Tunguska Meteorite” was an outreach event held at the
Moscow Planetarium in 1948 which had unexpected consequences. The scripted interventions from
actors planted in the audience proved more convincing than the scientist primed to debunk them.
Spectators left the event convinced that that the 1908 Tunguska event was caused by a UAP and this
explanation still has currency in popular science books and journalism today.
Period24 Mar 2023
Event titleUAP Colloquium: Alien Conversations
Event typeConference
LocationDurham, United KingdomShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • seti
  • science fiction
  • public engagement
  • astronomy
  • ethnography
  • soviet union
  • russian