October Spooky Series: The Door to Hell

This crater that has been burning for decades is a mysterious phenomenon you have to see to believe.

by posted on October 1, 2021
Darvasa Gas Crater Panorama
Cropped 2011 photo by Tormod Sandtorv from Wikipedia CC BY-SA 2.0

Inside the Karakum Desert that covers 70 percent of Turkmenistan is a fiery pit that has been burning for 40 to 50 years. It is called the Darvaza Crater. Colloquially known as the “Door to Hell” or the “Gates of Hell,” the apocalyptic looking pit is surrounded by nothing but desolate dunes. As if Dantean flames spewing from a hole in the barren wilderness wasn’t spooky enough, the inception of this crater is shrouded in mystery.

Though it appears that the fires of hell are engulfing the earth, the story goes that in 1971 Soviet geologists were drilling for oil when the drill site broke open. The pocket of natural gas underneath began gushing methane through the cracked earth. To avoid a dangerous explosion, the scientists decided to light the pit on fire to burn off the escaping gas. However, what they thought would result in a week-long fire has been burning for decades.

While this story certainly seems plausible, there are, suspiciously, no records. Local geologists have suggested that the pit was formed in the 1960s and wasn’t lit on fire until the 80s. Some sources claim that there are no records because it happened so long ago, while others suggest it is classified information because oil and gas were considered very prized to the Soviet Union. We may never know exactly how the Door to Hell was formed, but the fiery pit attracts other mysterious phenomena, such as mass spider suicides.

That’s right, spiders willingly crawl to their death in the Door to Hell. Attracted by the dancing flames in the black desert night, clusters of spiders hurry toward the illuminated pit in search of prey. However, the unfortunate arachnids inevitably succumb to the burning heat that can be felt even along the edges of the inflamed crater. I don’t know about you, but when I imagine the door to hell, a fiery pit with spiders crawling in just about sums it up.

Turkmen geologists stated that when the pit was initially formed, water and mud spewed up with the gas. In 2013 Canadian explorer George Kourounis actually descended into the Door to Hell in search of living organisms … And he found them. With water, methane, correct temperatures and oxygen, even extremophile bacteria can survive at the bottom of the fiery pit. Kourounis said that during his descent into the smokeless flames the high-pressured, jet-like sound of the crater reminded him of “demons growling.” He is, to date, the only human to go down into the 99 ft. deep Door to Hell.

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