Amid the endless sea of sand that is Turkmenistan's Karakum Desert sits a giant crater that has been on fire for 40 years. Of all of the natural wonders of the world, the Darvaza Gas Crater is one of the most captivating and strange places you can visit. The flaming abyss is located in the middle of nowhere, which has prompted locals to dub it the “Doorway to Hell”.
Though the pit isn't bottomless, the crater's ability to burn for decades is enough to suggest that it is indeed a Hellmouth, as only the fires of Hell can smolder for all eternity. However, the blaze was not sparked by natural causes.
In their endless search for oil, blundering Soviet scientists opened a Doorway to Hell in 1971. Their careless drilling caused the Earth to devour their camp and equipment, thanks to a huge pocket of methane gas that rested just below the site. In an effort to prevent the methane from seeping out into the atmosphere, the scientists lit it on fire, thinking that it would burn away in a matter of weeks. That never happened, and today, the fire shows no sign of letting up.
In 1971, Turkmenistan was still part of the Soviet Union, and the USSR was (and still is) heavily reliant on fossil fuels. Because of this, the Soviets did everything in their power to dredge oil and natural gas out of their lands. The Russians believed that the incredible expanse of the Karakum Desert concealed a bounty of oil beneath its dunes, so they sent a team of drillers and engineers to determine if their hunch was correct. Unfortunately, they were dead wrong.
The team unknowingly set up their camp — including a ton of heavy drilling equipment — right on top of a large pocket of natural gas. When they reached that pocket of gas, all Hell broke loose. Once there was a clear path for the gas to escape, the ground underneath them collapsed, and swallowed up the entire site. The only remains were a few feet of scrap metal that are still visible today.
After their camp was consumed by the Earth, the engineers realized that they had a serious problem on their hands. In addition to having possibly angered a sleeping demon, the methane gas they accidentally uncorked was rapidly seeping out into the atmosphere.
Nowadays, people are aware that methane gas is a greenhouse gas, and that its emission into the atmosphere perpetuates global warming. While scientists weren't very concerned about climate change in the '70s, they were aware that the gas could potenitally cause fiery explosions.
On average, the concentration of methane in the Earth's air stays locked at around 0.00017%. Once it reaches 5%, the likelihood of a methane-based fireball becomes uncomfortably high. As the pit continued to pump an incredible amount of methane into the atmosphere, the scientists were faced with a choice: leave it alone, or set it on fire.
Pragmatic as they were, the team set the site ablaze, believing that the pocket of gas would run out in a matter of weeks. While this is a fairly common practice for natural gas miners, this particular gas reserve seemed bottomless; nearly 50 years later, the fire is still burning.