Door to Hell
In 1971, Soviet geologists discovered a site near to Derweze, Turkmenistan, that they believed harboured oil. Work drilling the area for its resources began soon after the area was acknowledged. However, all was not as it seemed beneath the surface when they failed to find oil. They quickly realised that they were sitting upon a giant gas crater, which collapsed shortly after work began. Fear spread that the gasses that were emitting from the crater were poisonous.
With this in mind, scientists took the slightly extravagant step of setting the crater on fire. This, they believed, would prevent the gasses from spreading, and then fire should burn out within a week. But, some 44 years later, the fire is still burning.
The Derweze crater has been named The Door To Hell. The 230ft wide pit was given the fitting name by local residents in the village of Derweze due to the searing heat it emits and the red glow that can be seen by the community, with a population of just 350, a few miles away.
Gozel Yazkulieva, a visitor from the Turkmenistan capital Ashgabat, told AFP in 2014: "It takes your breath away. You immediately think of your sins and feel like praying."
The area has become something of a tourist hotspot in recent years. It is estimated that The Door To Hell attracts between 12,000 and 15,000 visitors a year. However, in 2009, the president of Turkmenistan, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, ordered that the hole be closed, but this has yet to come to fruition.
At first glance, it could be a dramatic scene from a science-fiction movie.
But this giant hole of fire in the heart of the Karakum Desert is not the aftermath of an attack on Earth, launched from outer space.
It is a crater made by geologists more than 40 years ago, and the flames within have been burning ever since.
Welcome to Derweze in Turkmenistan - or, as the locals have called it, 'The Door to Hell'.
Fearing that the hole would lead to the release of poisonous gases, the team decided to burn it off.
It was hoped that the fire would use all the fuel within days, but the gas is still burning today.
The flames generate a golden glow which can be seen for miles around Derweze, a village with a population of about 350.
The site is about 260 kilometres north of Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan.
In April 2010 the country's president, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, visited the site and ordered that the hole should be closed but this is yet to happen.
The Karakum Desert, which covers much of Turkmenistan, lies east of the Caspian Sea.
The Aral Sea is located to the north and the Amu Darya river and the Kyzyl Kum Desert lie to the north-east.
The area has significant oil and natural gas deposits.
Story continues below !
In 2013, explorer George Kourounis became the first person to step foot within the burning hole, which is 99ft deep, as he hoped to collect soil samples from the scorching soil in a bid to learn about whether life can survive in such harsh conditions. This would have helped scientists gain a better understanding of potential life on other planets that have similar conditions. Some bacteria was actually found living inside.
Describing his encounter with The Door To Hell, Kourounis told National Geographic: "When you first set eyes on the crater, it's like something out of a science-fiction film. You've got this vast, sprawling desert with almost nothing there, and then there's this gaping, burning pit... The heat coming off of it is scorching. The shimmer from the distortion of it warping the air around it is just amazing to watch, and when you're downwind, you get this blast of heat that is so intense that you can't even look straight into the wind.
"I described it as a coliseum of fire ? just everywhere you look it's thousands of these small fires. The sound was like that of a jet engine, this roaring, high-pressure, gas-burning sound. And there was no smoke. It burns very cleanly, so there's nothing to obscure your view. You can just see every little lick of flame. There were a few moments that I just literally had to stop, look around, and drink in the spectacle of where I was."
More than four decades ago, a gaping, fiery crater opened up in the desert of northern Turkmenistan (map), likely the result of a drilling mishap.
The Darvaza Crater, more commonly known as the Door to Hell, still burns today, a surreal feature in an otherwise barren landscape.
Details on the origin of the sinkhole are sketchy, but the story goes that Soviet scientists set it on fire to burn off noxious gases after the ground under a drilling rig gave way. Perhaps the scientists underestimated the amount of fuel that lay below—Turkmenistan has the sixth largest natural gas reserves in the world.
In November 2013, explorer and storm chaser George Kourounis, on an expedition funded partly by National Geographic and also supported by the travel company Kensington Tours, set out to be the first person to plumb the depths of the crater, which is 225 feet (69 meters) wide and 99 feet (30 meters) deep.
At the bottom he collected soil samples, hoping to learn whether life can survive in such harsh conditions—and perhaps shedding light on whether life could survive similar conditions elsewhere in the universe.
His harrowing plunge is featured on the National Geographic Channel series Die Trying, which airs tonight, July 16, at 10 p.m. EDT. Kourounis, who's based in Toronto, talked with National Geographic about his experience in Turkmenistan.
There are places on Earth that are a little creepy, places that feel a little haunted and places that are downright hellish. The Darvaza gas crater, nicknamed by locals "The Door to Hell," or "The Gates of Hell," definitely falls into the latter category—and its sinister burning flames are just the half of it. Located in the Karakum Desert of central Turkmenistan (a little over 150 miles from the country's capital) the pit attracts hundreds of tourists each year. It also attracts nearby desert wildlife—reportedly, from time to time local spiders are seen plunging into the pit by the thousands, lured to their deaths by the glowing flames.
So how did this fiery inferno end up in the middle of a desert in Turkmenistan? In 1971, when the republic was still part of the Soviet Union, a group of Soviet geologists went to the Karakum in search of oil fields. They found what they thought to be a substantial oil field and began drilling. Unfortunately for the scientists, they were drilling on top of a cavernous pocket of natural gas which couldn't support the weight of their equipment. The site collapsed, taking their equipment along with it—and the event triggered the crumbly sedimentary rock of the desert to collapse in other places too, creating a domino-effect that resulted in several open craters by the time all was said and done.
The largest of these craters measures about 230-feet across and 65-feet deep. Reportedly, no one was injured in the collapse, but the scientists soon had another problem on their hands: the natural gas escaping from the crater. Natural gas is composed mostly of methane, which, though not toxic, does displace oxygen, making it difficult to breathe. This wasn't so much an issue for the scientists, but for the animals that call the Karakum Desert home—shortly after the collapse, animals roaming the area began to die. The escaping methane also posed dangers due to its flammability—there needs to be just five percent methane in the air for an explosion to potentially take place. So the scientists decided to light the crater on fire, hoping that all the dangerous natural gas would burn away in a few weeks' time.
It's not as outlandish as it sounds—in oil and natural gas drilling operations, this happens all the time to natural gas that can't be captured. Unlike oil, which can be stored in tanks indefinitely after drilling, natural gas needs to be immediately processed—if there's an excess of natural gas that can't be piped to a processing facility, drillers often burn the natural gas to get rid of it. It's a process called "flaring," and it wastes almost a million dollars of worth of natural gas each day in North Dakota alone.
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