Inside Turkmenistan’s “Door to Hell” Which Has Been Burning for Forty Years

Explorer George Kourounis describes his descent into a fiery, gas-fueled crater.

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. (Related: “Diver ‘Vanishes’ in Portal to Maya Underworld.”)

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.

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SOURCE: National Geographic