A crater that mysteriously appeared in the Taimyr peninsula of Siberia about three years ago has grown to 15 times its original size, and recent reports indicate locals said that they recalled hearing an explosion at the time of the event.
According to the Siberian Times and the Daily Mail, the 330-foot deep crater was just 13 feet in width when a helicopter pilot and his passengers first reported seeing it in 2013, but measured an incredible 230 feet when it was last surveyed. In addition, researcher Dr. Vladimir Epifanov has told reporters that residents living up to 100 km away reported hearing a loud blast.
Eyewitnesses told Dr. Epifanov they had observed a clear glow in the sky around that same time, which would have been roughly one month after the Chelyabinsk meteorite incident in February. Russian media reports also indicate that dozens of other craters have since popped up in the region, leading Siberian residents to refer to the region as “the end of the world.”
The mysterious growing crater is also now home to a lake, which the Daily Mail said formed as permafrost in the region melted and the walls surrounding the hole caved in. That all happened in the first 18 months following the crater’s discovery, the Siberian Times said. Experts believe that it may even be larger now, but no recent surveys have been conducted.
So what caused this mysterious chasm, anyway?
The discovery follows initial skepticism that the reports of the crater were a hoax, according to CBS News, but now that they have been verified, Russian scientists are working to try and find out what might have caused this gaping chasm to initially form, and then grow larger.
Some believe the crater’s origin is not of this world. While theories about aliens creating the crater are easy to dismiss, some hypothesize that it was caused by a meteorite. However, as the Daily Mail pointed out, researchers have all but eliminated the possibility due to the fact that the hole does not resemble a normal impact crater.
One possibility, the UK newspaper said, is that it was caused by a pingo – a phenomenon which occurs when land covers a subsurface accumulation of ice, and that ice melts, leaving a gigantic hole behind in its wake. Another possibility is that it was the result of an underground explosion of methane, since the region is said to be rich in natural gas that, when mixed with salt and water, could result such an explosion. The official cause has yet to be determined, however.
Anna Kurchatova of the Sub-Arctic Scientific Research Centre favors the methane explanation, and that global warming likely played a role. She told CBS News that she believes that gas that had accumulated in ice mixed with sand beneath the ground, and that this mixed with salt, as the region had been a sea at one point, some 10,000 years ago. Warmer temperatures resulted in the permafrost melting, releasing the gas an causing the explosion to occur.
Image credit: Yamalo-nenets Autonomous region governor’s press-service