Why has a 260-foot crater opened up in Siberia?

Siberian Crater

A massive crater said to be approximately 260 feet wide has opened up a in remote part of Siberia. What is it and why did this happen?

According to the Siberian Times, the pit was first spotted by a helicopter flying over Siberia's Yamal Peninsula, an area of the globe so far-flung that its name loosely translates to "end of the world." There is no explanation yet for how the chasm was formed, or how deep it is, although a team of scientists were on their way to the site at press time to study it and learn more. A field of debris seen in photos and video footage around the crater's rim did suggest that material was actually ejected from the hole, which is thought to have formed around two years ago.

Siberian Crater 2

So, what the heck could it be?

io9 reports that there are at least four possible theories out there now about what created the hole, although two -- that it was caused by the impact of a meteorite, or that it's the resting place of a UFO -- aren't very likely. One plausible explanation advanced by Australian researcher Chris Fogwill is that the pit is a pingo, which is a block of ice that appears in frozen arctic areas like this and actually becomes a small hill, before collapsing due to climate change and leaving a hole behind. 

Siberian Crater 3

The other possibility is that the crater is the result of a mixture of water, salt and gas that has ignited an underground blast. Scientist Anna Kurchatova from Russia's Sub-Arctic Scientific Research Center explained that global warming may have also played a role in this, causing the ice in the area to melt and allowing gas sealed underground 10,000 years ago to be released abruptly and explosively.

The Yamal region is gas-rich and already criss-crossed with pipelines, so any more craters or explosions could potentially be catastrophic. I personally find the "crashed UFO" idea more comforting than the thought of a gigantic gas fire at the top of the world, don't you?

Siberian Crater 4

(via Sydney Morning Herald

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