A massive, deep black hole, a crater approximately 262 feet wide, has appeared in the Siberian permafrost in such a remote area of Russia that the name for the area, Yamal, translates as "the end of the world." Scientists at present are somewhat baffled by the large crater and what might be responsible for its formation, but awareness of its existence has prompted Russian scientists to speculate and plan research expeditions to attempt to get to the bottom of the matter.
As NPR reported July 16 that the Siberian crater, which resembles a very large sinkhole, has been the center of heavy speculation as to its possible origin. Theories from extravagant ideas of UFOs landing on the permafrost to scientifically sound positions cocerning natural causes -- gas explosions, warming permafrost pressure (a different type of gas explosion), ice melting displacement -- have been tendered. Images of the mystery crater show a gaping circular hole, rough-edged and seeming to be shallowly filled with a dark liquid.
News of the mystery crater first appeared in the Siberian Times, which was quick to suggest: "Experts are confident that a scientific explanation will be found for it and that it is not — as one Web claim suggested — evidence 'of the arrival of a UFO craft' to the planet."
As the Times noted, the gigantic hole's sudden appearance on the Yamal Peninsula was first spotted by helicopters. However, experts believe, given evidence in the photos of the hole in the Siberian permafrost, that the massive hole is about two years old.
Yamal authorities have coordinated an expedition with experts from the Centre for the Study of the Arctic and the Cryosphere Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences to investigate.
The area is gas rich, sitting atop a reservoir of natural gas that is the largest in Russia (by some estimates, in the entire world). This, of course, led to the obvious speculative point that the crater was likely caused by a gas explosion. The large hole is located less than 20 miles (about 30 kilometers) from Yamal's biggest gas field Bovanenkovo.
"We can definitely say that it is not a meteorite. No details yet," said a spokesman from the Yamal Emergencies Ministry. At the same time, the spokesman could not say what might have caused such a massive hole in the ground.
One possible cause, according to Anna Kurchatova from Sub-Arctic Scientific Research Centre, is the increased warming of the permafrost over the past several years. Such warming, she explained, could have produced a massive explosion as water, salt and gas mixed together and ignited in an underground explosion. In short, global warming caused the melting of the permafrost over what was once a great sea, precipitating an effect not unlike the popping of a Champagne bottle cork, Kurchatova suggested.
Another possibility suggested by Dr. Chris Fogwill at the University of New South Wales in Australia: "Certainly from the images I've seen it looks like a periglacial feature, perhaps a collapsed pingo." He told the The Sydney Morning Herald. "This is obviously a very extreme version of that, and if there’s been any interaction with the gas in the area, that is a question that could only be answered by going there."
A "pingo" is a block of Earth-covered ice that can be found in the Arctic and subarctic. If the pingo was enormous, then melted, a giant hole like the one formed in Siberia could result.
The team of scientists dispatched to study the Siberian hole and take samples from the surrounding region arrived on Wednesday. Their findings will likely clear up the "End of the World" crater mystery. Until then, there is plenty of speculation to consider, debate, critique, refute...