A strange mystery has gripped a town in Arkansas after a resident discovered a flaming hole near his property and no one seems to know what created it. The fiery chasm was reportedly spotted by the man on Monday afternoon in the town of Midway. No doubt concerned by what he was seeing, the witness called the local fire department, who dispatched a team to investigate the situation.
Upon arriving at the scene, fire chief Donald Tucker observed that, indeed, “there were flames 8 or 9 feet high shooting out of a hole about 2 feet in diameter.” According to the bewildered official, the odd inferno lasted for about 45 minutes before it finally extinguished on its own. But that was only the beginning of the mystery as determining what caused the weird incident has proven to be rather difficult.
An examination of the hole revealed that it measured around three feet deep and took an inexplicable 45-degree turn at the bottom. Perhaps even more perplexing is that after the fire had gone out, Tucker took a reading of the temperature inside the hole and it registered a whopping 780 degrees.
Was is Brimstone?
Sulfur or brimstone is a soft, bright-yellow solid that is odorless, but impure samples have an odor similar to that of matches. It melts at 115.21 °C (239.38 °F), boils at 444.6 °C (832.3 °F) and sublimes easily. (change directly into vapor when heated, typically forming a solid deposit again on cooling.) Sulfur burns with a blue flame with formation of sulfur dioxide, which has a suffocating and irritating odor.
An investigation of the area surrounding the site found that there were no natural gas lines which could have accounted for the weird event and utility companies in the area said that it had nothing to do with them.
Was it a meteorite?
Sulfur, usually as sulfide, is present in many types of meteorites. Ordinary chondrites contain on average 2.1% sulfur, and carbonaceous chondrites may contain as much as 6.6%. It is normally present as troilite (FeS), but there are exceptions, with carbonaceous chondrites containing free sulfur, sulfates and other sulfur compounds. The distinctive colors of Jupiter’s volcanic moon Io are attributed to various forms of molten, solid and gaseous sulfur.
One theory making the rounds on-line is that a meteorite or lightning strike could have created the hole and subsequent fire, although area geologists told a local TV station that they are skeptical of that suggestion. “I can’t think of any geologic situation that would allow that to happen,” one expert said, “not in this area.” Tucker also seemed to dismiss these suggestions by noting that “there’s no sign of a strike, no splashed dirt around the edge,” which also seems to eliminate another popular hypothesis: space junk falling back down to Earth.
It is the fifth most common element by mass in the Earth. Elemental sulfur can be found near hot springs and volcanic regions in many parts of the world, especially along the Pacific Ring of Fire; such volcanic deposits are currently mined in Indonesia, Chile, and Japan. These deposits are polycrystalline, with the largest documented single crystal measuring 22×16×11 cm. Historically, Sicily was a major source of sulfur in the Industrial Revolution.
As such, Tucker and other town officials are left scratching their heads over the mystery. A judge in the community mused “we don’t believe that the devil showed up, or the meteorites landed, or the big booms happened.” Yet he also conceded that “what ignited it and what fueled it we still don’t know. And it may remain forever a mystery.”