In a chaotic world of downed planes, ethnic unrest and missile strikes, international observers settled their attention elsewhere earlier this month. They looked north to Siberia, a land covered in snow and layered in permafrost, where a strange and giant crater had just ripped open the earth. At the time, no one knew where exactly the crater had come from, what was at its bottom, or how it had come to be.
There are sure to be even more questions now.
Two new craters have emerged in Siberia, deepening the giant hole saga. Though not as big as the first crater, which extended hundreds of feet in diameter, these new craters are just as strange.
The original 80-metre wide crater in Siberia. Photo: AP
One of the newly-discovered holes is near the original — in a land referred to by locals as “the end of the world”. It’s around 14 metres in diameter and formed under unknown conditions. Same goes for the other new crater, which has a diameter of 4 metres, a depth of between 61 and 100 metres and was discovered by “mystified” herders near the village of Nosok in the icy Krasnoyarsk region.
“It is not like this is the work of men,” one expert explained to the Siberian Times, which has been hot on the giant crater story from the get-go. “But [it] also doesn’t look like natural formation.”
Even politicians have been drawn by the brouhaha. “I flew by helicopter to inspect this funnel on July 19,” local lawmaker Mikhail Lapsui told the Siberian Times, saying it looks much like the original crater, only smaller, with a small ice lake at its base. “There is also ground outside, as if it was thrown as a result of an underground explosion.”
Andrei Plekhanov, a researcher at the Scientific Research Center of the Arctic, stands at the entrance to the crater. Photo: AP
Locals can’t seem to get their stories straight over what happened, he explained. “According to local residents, the hole formed on September 27, 2013. Observers give several versions. According to the first, initially the place was smoking and then there was a bright flash. In the second version, a celestial body fell there.”
A bright flash? A “celestial” body? Can science help out this mess?
“Undoubtedly, we need to study all such formations,” Marina Leibman, the chief scientist of the Earth Cryosphere Institute, told URA.RU. “It is necessary to be able to predict their occurrence. Each new funnel provides additional information for scientists.”
There’s been no shortage of theories. Hypotheses have ranged from asteroids to an underground missile explosion to global warming, a melt of the permafrost. Scientist Anna Kurchatova, in an interview with the Siberian Times, suggested that melting could produce an effect similar to a champagne bottle when the cork pops, except on a giant scale.
Studies have indeed shown that the Arctic is heating up. Grist reports one paper in the Geophysical Research Papers suggests that the region hasn’t been so hot in the last 120,000 years. Still, even with more information than before on the Arctic region, it remains so distant a land that it can be difficult to get a good read on it.
“For that reason, the Arctic continually surprises scientists,” writes Slate’s Eric Holthaus. “Just like last week.”
The Washington Post