Monday, 10 November 2014

The Door to Hell

Forty-three years ago in 1971, when China was the newest admittance to the United Nations; India and Pakistan were at war over territory in east Pakistan - now Bangladesh -; decimalisation occurred in the UK making way for the new penny and pound currency; and an 85 meter tsunami hit Ryukyu in Japan; scientists were stood in a field in Turkmenistan. Due to a simple mistake these scientists lit a hole in the centre of a natural gas field, purely by accident. Now, 43 years later it is still burning, and has been affectionately named, The door to hell. 

The door to hell can be found within a natural gas field in Derweze - literally translating as 'gate' -, Turkmenistan. Derweze is located in the middle of the Karakum desert, 160 miles (260 km) north of Ashgabat, the country's capital. It was nothing more than mere irony that this accidentally lit hole sat in the middle of one of the largest gas fields in the world. The hole is 70 meter (230 ft) wide and is filled with powerful orange flames that lick the surrounding air, and boiling mud that bubbles ferociously. Rumours have been told that local spiders are drawn to the pit, tempted by the glowing orange flames that light up the night. These spiders then lower themselves to their deaths on a single strand of silk. It is these qualities that influenced the locals to don the name 'the door to hell' upon this burning pit. The pit is approximately 25 m (81 ft) deep and should be treated with caution at all times. Falling into a 25 meter deep burning hole that has been nick-named 'the door to hell' would be enough to ruin anybody's Saturday.      

Only one person on earth has ever set foot and climbed to the bottom of the door to hell, and that was the Canadian explorer and storm-chaser, George Kourounis. More people have set foot on the Moon. George donned a highly reflective Kevlar suite and abseiled into the depths of the pit, whilst looking like a giant piece of tinfoil. The attempt was highly treacherous due to the excessive heat emitted from the pit, and the abundance of methane - which displaces oxygen - meaning that a professional Hollywood stunt coordinator was recruited to oversee the descent. The soil that George collected from the base of the pit was analysed, and it was found that there were forms of bacteria living comfortably in the hole. It was also discovered that these bacteria are found nowhere else within the surrounding environment. Therefore, the Soviet petroleum engineers that accidentally lit the door to hell 43 years ago, unwittingly created an entirely unique mirco-ecosystem. An ecosystem so unique that it is believed to resemble the conditions found on other planets outside of our solar system. Effectively these engineers created a 'new planet', right here on earth.   

The door to hell.
This pit in Turkmenistan has been burning continuously since 1971.

George Kourounis in his reflective Kevlar suit, lowering himself into the door to hell.  

The door to hell is located in Derweze, Turkmenistan. 

- Until the next Butterfly...