When a mysterious crater was discovered this past summer on the Yamal Peninsula in northern Siberia, origin theories abounded, including it being the work of extraterrestrials, a man-made hoax, a meteorite, or the result of a stray missile colliding with the surface of the Earth. Now that it's cold enough to venture in, a team of scientists organized by the Russian Centre of Arctic Exploration lowered themselves into the crater last week and began the hunt for answers, reports National Geographic. "Yamal" means "end of the world" in Russian.
The current working theory is that the crater, which is 260 feet wide and 54 feet deep, formed after the release of gas hydrates, and scientists will begin testing that theory now. Researchers performed radiolocation tests as deep as 650 feet and took samples of ice, earth, gases, and air from the largest of three known holes, all of which appear to have formed recently. Once they've processed the information from the expedition, the scientists "plan to explore the surrounding area, comparing images from space, and even those taken in the 1980s, to understand if there are—or were—some similar objects," one researcher tells the Siberian Times. (One geophysicist in Alaska thinks climate change plays a role in the formation of these holes.)