More than 40 years ago, a drilling accident is believed to have caused the enormous, smoking crater that suddenly formed in the northern Turkmenistan desert. Today’s burning Darvaza Crater, also known as the Door to Hell, is a strange spectacle amid an otherwise desolate terrain.

Explorer and storm chaser George Kourounis set out on an expedition in November 2013 to become the first person to investigate the crater’s depths, which are 99 feet (30 meters) deep and 225 feet (69 meters) wide. The crater looks like something out of a science fiction movie when he first catches sight of it. There is a huge, flaming hole in the middle of this massive, sweeping desert that has almost nothing else. When you’re downwind, you get this blast of heat that is so powerful that you can’t even stare straight into the wind. The shimmer from the heat’s distortion twisting the air around it is incredible to witness. You must use your hand to cover your face while standing at the crater’s edge. It made a screaming, high-pressure, gas-burning sound similar to a jet engine. There was also no smoke. Because it burns so cleanly, there is nothing to block your vision. You feel extremely small and vulnerable in a setting like that, as Kourounis calls it, a “colosseum of fire.”

There are few details on the sinkhole’s creation, but the legend has it that Soviet scientists lit it on fire to expel poisonous fumes after the ground beneath a drilling rig crumbled. However, the tale that has been making the rounds on the Internet diverges a little from what the local geologists told Kourounis. A portion of it is still a mystery.