The 52 Year Old Fire

By Anupum Pant

Centralia, a small town in Pennsylvania sits on massive deposits of an A-class quality of coal – Under the town, in every direction, the coal veins span across several miles (50-80 miles long). In the 50s it used to be a bustling little town of about 2000 people, and yet the population of this town has dwindled to 10 now.

Some it has to do with the fact that Centralia has a fire burning underneath. A massive fire that accidentally started more than 50 years ago, and it still continues to burn, even today.

In May 1962, five volunteers were hired to clean up the landfill for Memorial day celebrations. Unlike every other time, when landfills were located at some other places and were set to fire to clean up, this time they were on an abandoned strip-mine pit next to the Odd Fellows Cemetery. Like the fire used to die off all the time, the fire set on that day (May 27th, 1962) never got extinguished. And then entered the labyrinth of abandoned coal mines beneath Centralia. The fire still burns…

Today, Centralia is no more than a ghost town. Several places here have huge cracks in the ground spewing hot steam.

centralia coal fire

By many, the fire is believed to be the sole factor in converting this bustling 50s town into a ghost town. However there’s much more to it than just the fire. Radiolab gives a great insight on it…

Although there is a 1 hour-long documentary on Youtube about this, do not forget to have a look at this short documentary about the town. “The Unknown Cameraman”, an urban explorer presents..

The Coldest Place on Earth

By Anupum Pant

A couple of days back I wrote about the hottest place on earth. That made me think of how cold the coldest place would be. I was sure it’d be somewhere in one of the poles, but I wasn’t sure where exactly it was.

This is what Google said:

Aerial photograph of Vostok Station, the coldest directly observed location on Earth. The lowest natural temperature ever directly recorded at ground level on Earth is −89.2 °C (−128.6 °F; 184.0 K), at the Soviet Vostok Station in Antarctica, on July 21, 1983.

After a little more digging, I found that his was the old record. Turns out, the coldest place on earth now, not counting the laboratories, is still in the high ridges of the East Antarctic plateau close to Vostok station. It’s called the Dome B. And the coldest times happen when all the conditions are perfect.

When the conditions are right, the temperatures during winters can reach minus 92 degrees Celsius!

The Radioactive Lake of Kazakhstan

By Anupum Pant

If you haven’t heard about the operation Plowshare, it was a US operation focused at developing techniques that would help them utilize the massive power of nuclear weapons for peaceful construction purposes. Now if that sounds dumb, remember, it was the year 1961 when they thought of trying it out. Look back at other things from that time and you’ll realize how dumb those times were. Maybe the next generation will say the same for the year 2014.

How would someone use nuclear weapons for construction, you ask? If you think about it, using it to make huge holes in the ground, blasting rocks for mining seems like a good idea at first. How quick it would be, right? No.

After 27 such experimental blasts, the researchers from US learnt that this wasn’t a very wise thing to do, even if it seemed like a good idea. However, they ended up inspiring the Soviets.

While US had learnt about the ill effects of it and had stopped the operation by the year 1977, Soviets made their own version called “Nuclear Explosions for the National Economy” and continued doing it till the year 1989. 156 such tests were done by them.

Among all of them, one was done at the edge of a test site in Kazakhstan. In the year 1965, a 140 kiloton device was placed at about 180 meters below the surface, and detonated. As a result, a 400 meter wide and 100 meter deep hole was created in the ground.

This hole was planed to be a reservoir for an overflowing river nearby and it eventually got filled with water. A lake was formed. It has since been known as lake Chagan.

Lake Chagan contains water that remains radioactive till date. Even today the lake has “100 times more than the permitted level of radionuclides in drinking water“. Only at a distance of about 100 to 150 meters from the lake the radioactivity levels are at a background level.

Here is the video of the test that created this radioactive lake. The audio is in some other language, so you might have to do with just the video…

via [AmusingPlanet]