SCIENCE

The Door to Hell

What exactly is this place so terrifying that it was given the name “the Door to Hell”. The door to hell is not a natural phenomenon but rather a man-made freak show. The Door to Hell, officially known as the Darvaza Gas Crater came into existence because of a grave mistake by scientists.

In 1971, a group of Soviet petroleum geologists went to explore the Karakun desert in Turkmenistan, hoping to find oil and gas fields. The geologists were so fueled (pun intended) by the esmitates of the amount of natural gas present in the area that they wasted no time to set up some drilling rigs. However, they didn’t consider a lot of aspects before drilling and unfortunately drilled right over a big cavernous pocket of natural gas which collapsed soon after the operation began.  A giant sinkhole gobbled up the ground and all the scientific equipments, leaving behind a hole 60m in diameter and 20m deep. No deaths occured at the incident.

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Natural gas is composed primarily of methane, a colorless, odorless and non-toxic gas which can easily displace oxygen, making it hard to breathe when it is present. And the most exciting part about methane is that it LOVES to explode. Even at concentration as low as 5% in the air, methane can create a combustible mixture.

The Soviet geologists had to choose one between the two options:

1. Put the local population and the environment at risk by letting the dangerous metane gas to vent by itself

OR

2. Light the crater on fire, burning off all the gas 

The scientists chose the latter thinking that the gas will burn off in just a matter of weeks. Oh boy, they were so wrong! Today, after 42 years, the crater is still burning  and is a tourist attraction. The crater can be seen at night from miles away .

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The fire will continue to burn until all the natural gas deposite feeding the flame have been combusted. No one knows when exactly the day will come. I think I just figured out where my next trip will be!

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