The Gates of Hell Burning Since 1971

Andrei Tapalaga

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Darvaza gas crater in Turkmenistan burning non-stop since 1971 (Source: National Geographic)

Certain phenomenons that occur on our planet are yet to be explained by the world of science, whilst others are very easily explained. Still, people with certain beliefs choose to see the mythological perspective of such phenomenons, mainly because they don’t believe in science.

What you are seeing in the picture above is a crater from Turkmenistan that the locals from Darvaza named “the gates to hell” as it has been burning to their explanation “with no fuel” since 1971. However, science can explain that these are no gates to hell, but a crater which underneath has a large pocket of natural gas that has been slowly released for the past 50 years, maintaining a constant flame.

How are these gases formed?

These natural gases are formed in a similar process to the one that produces the oil that we drill from the ground. They are the product of decomposed organic matter such as dinosaurs or even more prehistoric creatures that have been deposited underground for at least 500 million years.

As this organic matter gets mixed with mud and sand, it transforms into either oil or natural gases, depending on the composition and for how long the process of decomposition took place. Natural gases are formed quicker, that is why we find them closer to the crust of the Earth.

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The burning crater near night time (Source: National Geographic)

Such natural gases are a major problem for miners as they can be found in small pockets where you either can get intoxicated by inhaling too much or if a source of fire is lit, explode.

The discovery of this crater

The first recorded discovery of the crater was by a group of Soviet engineers in 1971 who thought that this zone where the crater is could also likely house oil. Upon their discovery, the crater was already burning, so we assume that it has been burning constantly for 50 years, but could have been doing so for much longer than that.

The area where the crater was found is pretty secluded, as the closest village is 250 kilometers (155 miles) away, the rest is pretty much just an empty desert. Years later, some geologists came to analyze the crater and find the initial source of gas that was feeding the fire non-stop, however, the crater was crumbling underneath them, not only making the fire much bigger but raising the risk for a large gas pocket to be uncovered and produce a deadly explosion.

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Geologists visit the crater (Source: National Geographic)

Geologists are hoping that the resources of natural gas keeping the crater burning will soon run out in order for them to analyze it, but their expertise says that the pockets of gas may be enough to keep the crater burning for another 500 years!

Besides the local mythological belief of this crater being some sort of portal to hell, it offers a spectacular show in the nighttime. It makes the middle of the arid Karakum desert light up.

In 2010, the president of Turkmenistan, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, stated that measures would be taken to limit the potential creation of new craters by increasing their export of natural gas to their neighboring countries.

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