A hole in the ground, up to 262 feet across, was recently confirmed in Siberia, and global warming may be to blame. The first images from inside its structure are striking, showing an eerie frozen lake at its bottom.
The Yamal Peninsula, where the crater formed, has a name that means "the end of the world."
Researchers have measured the depth of the crater at 230 feet. At the bottom of this is an icy lake. The darkened walls of the crater are also moist with water. The exact diameter of the oval-shaped feature is difficult to measure, given the uneven nature of the ground.
The date of the crater's formation is unknown, but investigators believe it may have been created between one and two years ago. Satellite data and images are currently being scoured for any sign of the formation.
Theories trying to explain the birth of the crater have included an explosion of methane gas, a meteorite, and even aliens crashing aboard a flying saucer.
Ice has been found inside the crater, and is thawing since being exposed to the sun. The first scientists visiting the feature believe this accounts for the water on the walls.
"We have taken soil and ice samples which went straight to laboratories. We can be certain in saying that the crater appeared relatively recently, perhaps a year or two ago; so it is a recent formation, we are not talking about dozen years ago," Andrey Plekhanov, Senior Researcher at the State Scientific Centre of Arctic Research, said.
The Siberian crater may have formed from the ejection of permafrost beneath the ground. Although such an event could have quickly created the feature, no heat would have been produced during the event.
The area contains a number of water bodies called the Yamal Lakes. A Russian theory, popular in the 1980's, suggested these features may have formed by the sudden creation of craters that filled with water. Researchers believe the crater will develop into a new lake.
"Such kind of processes were taking place about 8,000 years ago. Perhaps they are repeating nowadays. If this theory is confirmed, we can say that we have witnessed a unique natural process that formed the unusual landscape of Yamal Peninsula," Plekhanov told the local press.
The last two summers have been hotter than normal in the region. Plekhanov stated his belief that global warming may have contributed to the formation of the crater. A combination of water, salt and methane could have caused the eruption of dirt, possibly triggered by rising temperatures. Still, he cautioned that further research will be needed to prove any possible correlation.