How 'the Gates of Hell' Emerged in a Soviet Desert

Giant pit has become tourist spot

By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff

Posted May 25, 2014 8:03 AM CDT

(Newser) – A fiery pit has been burning in the middle of a Turkmenistan desert for more than four decades, and little has been done to get rid of it. The Darvaza gas crater, nicknamed the "Gates of Hell" or the "Door to Hell," has been on fire since 1971, when scientists were looking for oil fields in the Karakum Desert, then part of the Soviet Union. The spot where they began drilling turned out to be a haven for natural gas—and the site collapsed under the weight of the drilling gear, Smithsonian magazine reports.

Several craters were formed, the biggest of which is 230 feet wide and 65 feet deep, and it was full of methane gas that began killing local animals. So scientists decided to burn the gas away, a common practice when unwanted natural gas is sticking around. They thought it would be gone in a few weeks; now, more than 40 years later, it's still burning, and experts aren't sure how much gas remains. Officials have called for action to stop the flames, to no avail, the Smithsonian notes. The spot, which is visible from miles away, has become a tourist attraction, oilprice.com reports. Visitors can stay in tents and view the site—as well as "huge and largely harmless spiders" that hang out nearby.

The Darvaza gas crater.
The Darvaza gas crater.   (?)
The Darvaza gas crater.
The Darvaza gas crater.   (?)
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