In school, we’re taught that beneath the Earth’s crust lies a mantle and core. However, some people theorize (and falsely so) that the center of the planet might actually be hollow or there are a species of reptilian aliens that live under the crust. While those theories are silly, they speak to our fascination with what we can’t see.
Several decades ago, two countries—America and Russia—raced to drill the deepest hole into the Earth with the goal of discovering what was at its core. Both projects were massive undertakings, and the world was fixated on what mysteries they’d find beneath the surface.
Russia’s efforts resulted in something called the Kola Superdeep Borehole, and when you see it, you might have to pick your jaw up off the floor…
Have you ever wondered what lies beneath the Earth’s surface? In school, you’re told there’s a mantle and a core, but what if there was something else down there? Well, in the 1960s and 1970s, America and Russia each set off to find out…
Both countries drilled boreholes deep into the ground until they couldn’t go any farther. They used enormous metal contraptions that were designed to break through even the toughest material.
The world watched in awe as the Americans kicked off the race. The enormous drills were fired up, and everyone hoped the project would go according to plan. What kind of mysteries would the drillers find, if any?
The United States called their endeavor Project Mohole, and they began their drilling off of the Pacific coast of Mexico in 1961. This would be a massive effort with global interest, and there was a lot riding on this team’s work.
In order to ensure Project Mohole’s success, the team submerged six massive buoys 200 feet under the water in a circular pattern. The Navy barge tasked with the actual drilling used sonar to maneuver itself over the center of the circle and align the enormous rig.
The team was given very thorough instructions on how to handle the heavy rig. It was a dangerous operation, and extreme caution needed to be taken the entire time. Unfortunately, soon after the project began, it was abandoned due to lack of funding.
Almost a decade later, the Russians had organized their own drilling team and began their quest to reach the center of Earth. On May 24, 1970, they set their sights on the Kola Peninsula. The Russians called their endeavor the Kola Superdeep Borehole.
From 1970 to 1994, the skilled group of Russian drillers managed to burrow a third of the way through the Baltic continental crust. The hole they drilled still stands as the deepest man-made hole in the world.
Here’s an illustration showing just how deep the Russian borehole was—and this wasn’t even the deepest it eventually went! At that point, it was deeper than Mount Everest was tall. That’s an amazing geological feat!
The Kola Superdeep Borehole was an incredible undertaking that was appreciated by most all of the people of Russia. In 1987, the country printed a number of stamps commemorating the drilling team’s effort.
This is a picture of a massive rig similar the one the Russian team used to bore deep into the Earth’s crust. It was so heavy—and so dangerous—that all it took was one wrong move from a driller for the team to have been crushed under the weight of the steel.
Controlling the massive rig required several men at a time, and even then it was still often a struggle. The rig would sometimes jerk to one side, and the team had to be ready to reposition its massive arm at a moment’s notice.
This was the superstructure where the Kola Superdeep Borehole was located during the active digging period. The massive tower that loomed over the water was actually home to the enormous drilling rig.
The end goal of the drilling project was to reach a depth of 49,000 feet into the Earth’s crust. There were several holes dug that branched off of the main hole, and the deepest branch, called SG-3, reached a depth of an impressive 40,230 feet in 1989.
In 1992, although the Russian team was still about 9,000 feet away from their goal, the drilling came to an abrupt end due to dangerous conditions. The temperature at such a depth was much higher than the team planned for—almost 600 degrees Fahrenheit—and it made drilling impossible.
Although the drilling came to complete stop, the entire project wasn’t officially shut down until 2005. Unfortunately, in 2008, all of the facilities and the superstructure were scrapped and dismantled.
Even though the buildings were abandoned, visitors can still walk among the ruins and imagine what life was like during the epic race to the center of the planet. It’s a fascinating place to visit, but it’s also unfortunate this grand structure was simply left to rot…
If you do happen to visit the ruins of the building on the Kola Peninsula, you might not even notice the actual borehole itself. All that remains is a small, nine-inch steel cap that covers the surface opening of the hole, which has since been dubbed the “Hole to Hell.”
Even though the Russian team never reached their goal of 49,000 feet, the drilling did give the scientific world some major discoveries. Scientists now know a bit more about the planet’s structure, and microscopic plankton fossils were even discovered at the bottom of the hole.
The race to reach the center of the Earth was an exciting and intriguing time for the world. In the end, the goal was never reached—but at least the scientific community benefited from the efforts!
Though defunct, this phenomenal structure still stands as a reminder of one project that had the world on the edge of its seat. What a feat!
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