If you head to Turkmenistan, near the small village of Darvaza in the Karakum desert, you will find the Gates of Hell. No, not the beautiful 6 meter high sculpture by Auguste Rodin.
Nor the Greek God of death Hades’ front door. Instead, you will find a crater 226 feet wide and 98 feet deep that has continuously been on fire since 1971.
This fiery inferno is officially named the Darvaza gas crater, and features one of the largest deposits of natural gas ever found. As the story goes, the area was first explored by Soviet engineers looking for oil in 1971. They set up a rig on the exact spot of the crater, of course before there was a crater, and began drilling into the earth. Soon after, the rig punctured an enormous underground pocket of methane, collapsing the ground and swallowing the rig and equipment.
Now, the issue was containing the potentially harmful gas spewing from the ground at an alarmingly rapid rate. Methane is not strictly poisonous or toxic, however it does suck up surrounding oxygen, making it extremely difficult to breathe. The lives of people living in Darvaza as well as animals throughout the desert were now in jeopardy. Not to mention, methane is also known to be very explosive, even in small quantities.
The Soviet’s solution to this issue was to quickly light and burn off the gas, predicting it would eradicate the issue in a matter of weeks. This was not the case. 49 years later the Gates of Hell are still burning bright, said to be visible from dozens of miles away during the night.
The man-made phenomenon, named quite perfectly, is now a tourist attraction for a couple hundred adventurous people every year. In 2010, the president of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow visited the site and declared that it will be closed. In 2019, after rumors of his death, he appeared in a video speedily and recklessly driving a car around the rim of the crater. As of now, the crater is still sitting there, set to continue burning until all of the underground natural gas has been depleted. Scientists currently have no idea when this will be.