Russian federal officials remain silent amid widespread news that the sun disappeared for nearly three hours over remote rural districts in Siberia.
Sun Disappears Over Siberia
July is one of the best times to catch the sun in the republic of Yakutia, a Russian region blanketed in snow for more than half the year.
However, residents were astounded to find that a thick blanket of dark haze crept over the sun on the afternoon of July 20, leaving the districts of Eveno-Bytantaysky and Zhigansky in pitch-black darkness, according to a report by regional news website Yakutia 24.
The neighboring district Verkhoyansk was also said to have been covered in darkness, creating an area larger than Italy where the sun appeared to have been eclipsed by some unidentified object.
Russian authorities have, up to now, provided zero explanation as to what could have caused the darkness over the three districts in the country's northeastern region. Details of the event remain contradictory, with local residents and officials providing varying accounts of what happened.
Darkness Had A Yellowish Tinge
Images provided by locals to Siberian Times reveal the dark silhouette of trees and buildings cast against a dark, reddish sky. The air appeared to be filled with a thick, dusty haze, but local officials later said that there was no dust.
One local says it appeared to be a thunderstorm looming from the horizon. It got darker and darker, but the darkness seemed to have a rich yellow undertone. Inside their homes, people had to use electricity to be able to see. Those who were brave enough to venture outside carried torches.
"When the sun vanished, people started calling us in the administration," says Konstantin Starostin, head of Nizhne-Bytantaysky. "Many got scared, specially elderly people. People who live here for many years said they had never witnessed anything like this. The darkness was pitch black. It didn't come at once, but grew gradually. The sun was gone from 11:30 until 14:00 on Friday July 20."
When the sun reappeared, some locals said they found dust everywhere, including in their barrels of water that had turned into puddles of mud.
However, Starostin denies this report and says no dust was found. There were also rumors of a bright flash of light that was registered by U.S. satellites, followed by an uptick in radioactive levels and a flurry of unusual military activity in the area.
Silence from the federal government has prompted locals to create their own theories as to what happened on July 20. The most plausible explanation so far is that smoke coming from the wildfires that have been taking place in other districts could have traveled all the way to Yakutia and blocked out the sun.
However, some local officials question this explanation, pointing out that there was no wind that could have carried the smoke over the region on that day. Furthermore, people would be able to tell if the haze was caused by smoke from fire.
"If it was smog from fires, people would know," says Yuri Degterenko, deputy head of the national weather board's environmental monitoring team. "There would be smoke and a burning smell. Our meteorological stations did not trace such a thing."
Yevgeny Potapov, head of the Verkhoyansk settlement, says it could be something that looked like smoke but discounts that it could be a cloud because there was no rain that followed afterward.
Residents also suggest that it could have been a partial eclipse caused by a moving body that blocked out the sun over Yakutia. Typically, temperatures drop to 37 to 39 degrees Fahrenheit before an eclipse, and sure enough, it was particularly cold that morning. However, doubt remains since governments and media outlets inform residents about eclipses ahead of time.