Geologists Accidentally Opened the "Door to Hell"

Photos: John H. Bradley

In the darkness of night, flames dance and lick the air, casting an ominous glow that can be seen from miles around in the desert of Turkmenistan. The source of all this light and heat is a massive crater, in which blazes an unceasing inferno, dubbed by locals the "Door to Hell." For decades, the fires within the pit have been burning without end, fed by a seemingly unlimited pocket of natural gas. The "Door to Hell" might easily be placed among the world's most incredible natural wonder--that is, if it wasn't man-made. So, what manner of mortal man cast open this gaping chasm and set alight its endless fire, seeming so much like an apocalyptical vision? Well, they were geologists, actually.

Not so surprisingly for a legendary-seeming wonder, some of the details regarding the "Door to Hell," otherwise known as the Darvaza Gas Crater, have passed into legend--namely the date of its creation. Sources vary regarding the timeline, but Gadling sets the beginning of the story at about 35 years ago, which seems the most likely when considering some say it's been burning for over 200 years.

Apparently, during the 1970s, when Turkmenistan was part of the USSR, Soviet geologists were sent into the desert to explore for natural gas, which can often be detected seeping through the sand. While drilling in one such spot, the geologists happened upon a large, cavernous space full of poisonous gas which promptly swallowed their equipment. Hoping to burn off the excess gas, perhaps to make it possible to descend into the crater, the geologists set it ablaze--and 35 years later, it's still burning.

If this little tale seems lacking in the details, it would be because no official explanation has ever been released to corroborate the story--but if it was indeed the Soviets, they weren't known for being too open with their activities anyways. Rather, it's been up to storytellers to maintain the explanation for the "Door to Hell." But fortunately for the skeptical who may want to see it for themselves, the flaming crater continues to burn today--and shows no signs of dying down anytime soon.


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Tags: Asia | Geoengineering | Tourism