Today I Discovered Turkmenistan’s Gate To Hell

Welcome to hell! At least, the gates to it. This geological marvel’s more mundane name is the Darvaza gas crater, located in Turkmenistan near the village of Derweze, or Darvaza, around 260km north of the capital city Ashgabat. The site is in the middle of the Karakum Desert, Turkmenistan’s dominant geographical zone.

The burning pit’s origins lay back in Turkmenistan’s Soviet past, when the arid country was valuable for its vast gas reserves. Though accounts vary as to the timing of events, sometime around the 70s an oil drilling rig was set up near Darvaza, with engineers believing the site to house a substantial oil field.

What they found instead was a pocket of natural gas, which led the land to collapse and the oil rig and drilling site to go with it – creating a crater 70 meters wide and 20 meters deep.

Concerned about the impact of the toxic gasses to the local population, the engineers made the brilliant decision to set fire to the gas-filled crater. The belief was that the gas at the site would burn off within a couple of weeks, but it’s continued to burn until this day.

The current administration doesn’t seem to care about the local people as much as the engineers who first created this site did – the original village of Darvaza was dismantled by order of government officials, though the reason why is disputed. Some say it was to stop tourists from being put off by the ramshackle habitation, other accounts say the President himself didn’t want to see it when flying overhead.

Nevertheless, Darvaza sprung up again, a small collection of buildings full of locals taking advantage of the trickle of tourists willing to go through Turkmenistan’s restrictive visa process to get the perfect shot of this unearthly place.

Today I Discovered is a daily dose of facts for Lifehacker readers – the weird, wonderful and sometimes worrying. Most of the time, it’s just mind-blowing. Let us know if you discovered anything that blew your mind in the comments!

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