The Door to Hell: Inside Turkmenistan’s Ever-Burning Gas Crater

The Darvaza gas crater in Turkmenistan, also known as the Door to Hell or Gates of Hell, is a natural gas field collapsed into a cavern located in Derweze, Turkmenistan. Geologists intentionally set it on fire to prevent the spread of methane gas and it is thought to have been burning continuously since 1971. Apparently, it wasn’t a very wise move.

door to hell panorama
This amazing hi-res panorama photo was made from three 17mm shots stitched together and allow a rare glimpse into the burning crater. Image credit: Tormod Sandtorv (click image to enlarge)

The name “Door to Hell” was given by the locals, and it’s not hard to see why. The giant sinkhole is an incredible 69 metres wide, 30 metres deep, and is constantly in flames.

Details on the origin of the sinkhole are sketchy, but it is understood that Soviet geologists initially came across the site in 1971 and believed it was rich in oil. But shortly after they began drilling, the crater collapsed and began emitting noxious gases.

In an attempt to minimise the dangers of the gas, they set it alight with the expectation it would burn itself out in a matter of days. But the calculations have proved to be way off, and the crater has been burning continuously for 49 years.

The Turkmen government hopes that the crater will become a popular tourist attraction. The surrounding area is also popular for wild desert camping.

Hi-res photo of the Darvaza gas crater and the surrounding area, including where the tents usually are pitched, a couple of hundred meters away to the south of the crater. Image credit: Bjørn Christian Tørrissen

In November 2013, explorer and storm chaser George Kourounis, on an expedition funded partly by National Geographic, set out to be the first person to plumb the depths of the crater.

At the bottom he collected soil samples, hoping to learn whether life can survive in such harsh conditions—and perhaps shedding light on whether life could survive similar conditions elsewhere in the universe. Here’s a short video of his descent:

The Door to Hell has now been burning non-stop for almost half a decade, and geologists still have no idea how much longer it will burn for. It might die out tomorrow, or it might burn for another 100 years, nobody really knows.


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