A team of researchers from Russia’s Center for the Study of the Arctic (along with a few from the Cryosphere Institute of the Academy of Sciences) are expected to head out on an expedition to the so-called “end of the world” later on today to explore the origin of a massive hole that seemingly appeared out of nowhere last week.
The large hole was initially discovered on July 11th in a remote part of the Yamal (translating to “the end of the world”) Peninsula in northern Russia, which encompasses some 435 miles (700 km) of land and water . It (the crater) is so large, in fact, that experts believe it might wind up spanning about 262 ft (79 m) across, or spacious enough “for several Mi-8 helicopters to fly into” (the depth is unknown at this point, but it might wind up being just as deep as it is wide), which begs the question: what kind of natural phenomenon could leave such a huge hole without an equally large bang?
There are a few different working hypotheses, like the one suggesting that a large space rock survived the trip through Earth’s atmosphere and crashed into the Siberian permafrost (a similar event took place just last year, when a meteor brighter than the Sun wreaked havoc in Chelyabinsk, Russia), though this one seems extremely unlikely. Obviously, conspiracy theories are abound, with many insinuating that the crater was left behind by a UFO that landed on Earth because, well.. aliens. However, one leading expert has put forth a scenario grounded in actual science.
The Siberian area the crater was found in — the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Region, which lies approximately 20 miles from the Bovanenkovo gas field — is one of the most geologically young places on Earth. It also happens to be extremely rich in gas. In fact, it contains the largest natural gas reservoir in all of Russia (it might even be the largest gas reserve on the planet). In places with such large concentrations of gas, it’s not unusual for underground explosions to rocket off. They occur only when under-soil ice melts and releases a substantial amount of gas. Once the pressures are sufficient, they blow in a manner comparable to popping the cork off a champagne bottle; a scenario that seems to be playing out far more often thanks to the aid of global warming.
In the aerial photos, the researcher saw a few things that would support the “underground gas explosion” hypothesis, particularly, they were able to see a distinct darkening around the inner rim of the crater, which points to some type of a large explosion. Another telling thing deduced from the photos reveals that debris from the event, whatever the cause might be, didn’t collapse into the hole itself, but was thrown outward.
Another alternate scenario, this time, suggested by Dr Chris Fogwill, a polar scientist from the University of New South Wales, says that what looks like a run-of-the-mill crater might actually be an extreme example of something called a pingo. Pingos are essentially created when huge chunks of underground ice push their way up to the surface and melt. Oftentimes, if the blocks are large enough, they can leave spectacularly huge holes behind.
“We’re seeing much more activity in permafrost areas than we’ve seen in the historical past. A lot of this relates to this high degree of warming around these high arctic areas which are experiencing some of the highest rates of warming on Earth,” Dr Fogwill said.
[Reference: "Sydney Morning Herald"]
Once the team members — including a specialist from Russia’s Emergencies Ministry — arrive to survey the environment, they plan to collect soil and water samples, along with doing an assessment of the air. Hopefully, this will help shed some light on where this hole came from before the internet ventures into rogue black hole territory (as we’ve seen time and time again, people are weird like that).
WATCH: Aerial Footage of The Hole at the End of the World