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Scientist Experiences 'Stepping Onto an Alien Planet' Right Here on Earth

Explorer Recalls Drop Into Giant Fiery Asian Crater
Source: MEGA

The Dervaza Crater in Turkmenistan has burned out of control for decades.

Jan. 16 2024, Published 1:02 p.m. ET

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Ever considered venturing into a colossal, fiery pit spanning over 70 yards wide? Well, one daring individual not only entertained the idea but actually descended into the flames and lived to recount the harrowing tale.

George Kourounis, a Canadian explorer, undertook a remarkable feat by descending 100 feet into a blazing pit located in the Turkmenistan desert known as the Darvaza Crater. Unlike a natural volcano, this crater emerged from a mishap during natural gas drilling.

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Ten years after their expedition, Kourounis and his team reflect on their experience of what some dub as the "Door to Hell" in Central Asia. This nickname stems from the fact that authorities have permitted it to burn continuously since at least the 1970s, akin to the eternal flames of "Gehenna" described in the Bible.

Contrary to creating a daredevil spectacle for social media platforms like YouTube or TikTok, the expedition had a more profound purpose. It was a scientific mission supported by the National Geographic Society to understand the environment of exceedingly hot locations.

Kourounis explained to The U.S. Sun, "Take some samples of the soil at the bottom — sand, basically — and see if there is any extremophile bacteria living at the bottom that could give us clues to… life."

The temperatures within the crater can soar beyond 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit. Therefore, Kourounis meticulously prepared for his descent, donning a specialized suit that reflects heat and incorporates a breathing device.

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Admitting to feeling nervous about stepping into the fire, Kourounis drew on his previous experience researching inside volcanoes. Rappelling into the Darvaza Crater, he collected soil samples, all the while testing the endurance of the rope on his harness in the scorching conditions.

While digging, Kourounis unintentionally opened a new vent, with fire coming from the hole. Drawing parallels to the Martian landscape, he marveled at the “another-Earthly feel” of the orange or red soil.

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The results of the expedition revealed living bacteria in the soil, “enriched” by the crater's extreme temperature and low nutrient levels. Kourounis expressed, "In essence, we were looking for alien life right here on Earth."

The Darvaza Crater has become a popular tourist attraction in Turkmenistan, contrary to initial expectations that it would extinguish in a few weeks, The Daily Digest reported. However, the country's president has proposed extinguishing the artificial fire, citing health concerns for nearby residents and the significant natural gas consumption.

Despite the potential environmental and health repercussions, Kourounis remains a pioneer in geological exploration, having ventured where no human has gone before. Reflecting on his experience, he described it as "like stepping onto an alien planet," emphasizing the excitement, adventure, danger and the invaluable contribution to scientific knowledge.

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