A massive sinkhole suddenly appeared near the Alcaparrosa underground copper mine in Chile’s Atacama Desert. Thankfully, it didn’t injure anyone or affect any facilities. Work nearby is suspended until further notice. The hole is 105 feet in diameter and, based on the footage below, opened up underneath a dirt road just outside a work site. Experts from Chile’s National Geology and Mining Service are on-site to determine the cause. They reported that the sinkhole is 210 feet deep, though other outlets have said as deep as 650 feet.
We first saw the news on USA Today. Canadian company Lundin Mining, the owner of the land, said the sinkhole has not increased in size. It didn’t take long for people to post conspiracy theories about lasers or aliens because the sinkhole is “too round.” According to Gizmodo, the shape is actually quite normal for a sinkhole and seen in many other cases.
The Practical Engineering YouTube channel has a great explainer video on how sinkholes form. The cause for this one is still under investigation, but likely involves a combination of geology and mining operations. And even though the Atacama Desert is the driest place on Earth, water movement could also be a culprit.
Thankfully nobody was harmed when this giant sinkhole appeared. The investigation could lead to some interesting insights about the geology of the area. While a bit scary due to their unpredictable nature, sinkholes can further scientific discovery. A giant sinkhole recently discovered in China had an ancient forest within. Explorers even expect to find plant and animal species distinct to the sinkhole. There are also many unexplored underwater sinkholes, called blue holes, that hold many mysteries.
Melissa is Nerdist’s science & technology staff writer. She also moderates “science of” panels at conventions and co-hosts Star Warsologies, a podcast about science and Star Wars. Follow her on Twitter @melissatruth.