The Largest Hole in Earth

Heymatt: As usual, while contemplating my navel I came up with another Matthew Alice question. How big is the biggest hole ever dug in the earth? And please tell us some ridiculous facts about it, as usual. — Todd Manning, via email

Obviously a huge event in your life. You are counting on me to amaze and mystify you, perhaps even motivate you out of your navel-gazing and into some big-boy pursuit, like a job or at least a productive hobby. Maybe start digging a hole in your backyard?

So, did you mean dug, as in hand-dug? drilled? Machine-dug? Act-of-God dug? Earth’s full of holes. The biggest nature-made hole, larger than anything, is the Marianas Trench, an underwater feature in the Pacific near Japan, 36,201 feet deep into the earth, not just below sea level. Drop Mt. Everest in it, and the mount would disappear. It’s a tectonic plate subduction zone, where one piece of Earth’s moving crust dives under another. But somehow I don’t think this is what you’re looking for.

Okay, consider the Kimberley diamond mine in South Africa, a hand-dug, open-pit mine. Between 1874 and 1917, 50,000 miners excavated three tons of diamonds. The mouth of the mine measures about 42 acres. It’s 3520 feet deep; or, it was. What does mankind do with a huge empty hole in the neighborhood? They fill it with trash. Kimberley has been partially filled in and partially filled with water runoff. But Kimberley is a has-been. Deeper yet is Mir (or Mirny), a Siberian open-pit diamond mine, 1722 feet deep, 3936 feet wide. So wide and so deep that the Russians have set up a no-fly zone over the thing after downdrafts around the mine opening began swallowing helicopters. The place seems to have its own weather system.

But the generally agreed-upon champeen mine hole in the world is right here in the Red, White, and Blewie. The Bingham Canyon mine, southwest of Salt Lake City, aka, the Kennecott copper mine. They’ve been digging since 1863 and are at least 3/4 of a mile down, with a mine opening of 2.5 miles.

Mines and trenches aside, the deepest Earth-hole ever wasn’t really dug, so maybe this won’t qualify for your list. But it’s pretty impressive, anyway. It’s the famous Kola Borehole, a core-sampling drill hole in Russia, along the Norway border, begun in 1970. At 40,230 feet, it’s the deepest hole ever drilled in the history of drill-holedom. (The U.S. took a shot at that record a few years later, but the funding went down the drainhole.) What stopped the Russian project was the temperatures reached at such depths in a hole that narrow. The core drills wouldn’t operate in 350-degree heat. Drilling stopped in 1999.

That was the dullest part of the story, though. Kola has reached mythic heights. Somewhere along the line, some scientists dropped microphones into the hole to register any Earth sounds they might catch. A few wild-eyed überChristians got wind of the project and barged in to test for themselves. From somewhere, the zealots produced one odd recording of what most others said (and still say) sounded generally like people milling around in a bar. But no, said the God brigade. Those are tormented souls in hell screaming from the pain. See? We were right all along. Hell exists! Those Godless Russians were trying to dig a hole to hell, and they did it! The tale still circulates. At various places around the web you can find recordings of the damned souls/bar patrons; in the world of Earth-sounds investigators, it’s known as the Hell Hole Sound. I hope this is complete and weird enough for you, Todd. We always aim to please.

Heymatt: Why is it called a rap sheet? Did it have anything to do with a hit list? — Anonymous, via email

Smokies, Anonymous! You almost, sort of, slightly nudged accidentally into part of the answer. (I always like to give credit where credit is due.) So, yeah, the word “rap” originally meant a hit or a strike or something like that. (Er, not a “hit,” like, I’m gonna get you, sucker!) A noun and a verb since the 1300s. It’s probably what’s called an echoic word, coined as a result of the sound of somebody hitting something. Unfortunately, word nerds are pretty much bound by the printed page when compiling ancient origins, while, of course, we idiots babble on, using words willy-nilly, however they suit us. The next we hear from the word doctors, it’s the 1860s, and through common use, apparently, “rap” has evolved into the punishment for a crime. By 1903, it was the crime itself. “Rap sheet” came into common parlance in the 1960s, no surprise. Word to the unwise: “rap” is not an acronym for “record of arrests and prosecutions,” despite what “common knowledge” says. That’s an acronym formed after the appearance of the word, a backronym, also known as a folk etymology.

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