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Journeys into the Hollow Earth

Past expeditions have claimed evidence for civilizations inside the Earth

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North Pole entrance.

A satellite photo purporting to show the opening at the North Pole.

If you were to fly north from New York City, across Canada directly to the Earth's physical North Pole, then kept going straight... you'd end up somewhere in Russia, right?

Not necessarily, say those who believe the Earth is hollow. Why? Because there's a big gaping hole at the North Pole, they allege, and if you'd fly (or walk, for that matter) across the pole, you'd find yourself entering the interior of the planet.

The idea that the Earth is hollow is an outlandish one, on a par, many would argue, with a belief that the Earth is flat. There isn't much in the way of evidence, except for some unverifiable stories and a few highly contested photos that purport to show the hole at the North Pole. (There is supposedly a matching hole at the South Pole.) But the notion of a hollow Earth has persisted over the decades, most recently thanks to a few dozen websites that keep the speculation alive.

Putting science aside, it's easy to understand the appeal of a hollow Earth. It's the same romance and sense of adventure that inspired novels by the likes of Jules Verne (A Journey to the Center of the Earth), Edgar Allan Poe (MS Found in a Bottle) and Edgar Rice Burroughs (At the Earth's Core) in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Even today as our robots explore the surface of Mars, wouldn't be thrilling to find and explore a completely new world right here on this planet? (I should say in this planet.) That's the tantalizing prospect of a hollow Earth.

As mentioned above, there are allegedly true stories of people who have seen and even ventured into the space at the top of the planet, where lush vegetation is said to grow, warmed by an interior sun, and where strange, advanced civilizations thrive. Some adventurers claimed to have found the opening by accident, while others have mounted expeditions expressly for the purpose of exploring the Earth's interior:

• In the early 1800s, an American army captain named John Cleves Symmes was an enthusiastic supporter of the idea of a hollow Earth. He believed the theory proposed by Sir Edmund Halley, the famed astronomer, that there were five concentric spheres within the planet, each capable of supporting life and illuminated by a glowing atmosphere (which was responsible for the aurora borealis seen in the northern latitudes). Symmes was such a champion of this idea that the holes at the poles actually became popularly known as Symmes' Holes. He traversed the U.S. trying to raise money for an expedition and even petitioned Congress for financing. Nothing ever came of it.

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