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Human Habitat On the Moon in Lava Tubes!

S u m m a r y :
A potential human habitat has been detected on the moon in the form of a massive open lava tube in the Marius Hills. The new findings are published in Geophysical Research Letters.

Building A Lunar Base

The possibility of setting up a lunar base keeps scientists busy conducting investigations to bring man closer to this dream. Given that our satellite, unlike Earth, has neither atmosphere nor magnetic field to shield life, they would have to devise a way to protect astronauts from the extreme conditions of the moon: from the hazardous temperatures to radiation. Man did reach the moon back in 1969, but we still cannot stay there for more than 3 days because of the inadequacy of space suits. Therefore, finding a lunar spot that can sustain life is highly desirable. In a recent attempt to achieving this, a team of researchers from Purdue University has evaluated the habitability of lava tubes forming on the moon.

The Marius Hills Skylight. Photo credits: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University.

What Are Lava Tubes?

Lava tubes are natural channels built by flowing lava moving under a hardened crust. This crust thickens, forming a layer over the lava stream. The tube can, sometimes, drain lava resulting from volcanic activity. When the lava flow stops, the tunnel can turn into a hollow space.

Echo Patterns Indicate Presence of Massive Luna Lava Tubes

With the aim of detecting such lava tubes underneath the surface, senior researcher Junichi Haruyama from the space agency of Japan, JAXA, and his colleagues analysed radar data from the SELENE spacecraft. They, thus, found an entry to a tube near the Marius Hills Skylight. They confirmed the presence of the tube when they detected a particular echo pattern there: an echo peak followed an initial decrease in echo power, the two echoes indicating radar reflections from the surface of the moon and the floor and roof of the open tube. More tubes might be present in the vicinity, as suggested by similar echo patterns generated at a few locations.

Big Enough to House A City

The researchers also endeavoured to figure out the size of the lava tubes; these are thought to be bigger than those found on Earth.

“It’s important to know where and how big lunar lava tubes are if we’re ever going to construct a lunar base,” says Junichi Haruyama, a senior researcher at JAXA. “But knowing these things is also important for basic science. We might get new types of rock samples, heat flow data and lunar quake observation data.”

The team enlisted the participation of other scientists to determine the depth of the cavities.

“They knew about the skylight in the Marius Hills, but they didn’t have any idea how far that underground cavity might have gone,” says Purdue University’s Jay Melosh, a co-investigator involved in NASA’s GRAIL mission to obtain high-quality data about the moon’s gravitational field. “Our group at Purdue used the gravity data over that area to infer that the opening was part of a larger system. By using this complimentary technique of radar, they were able to figure out how deep and high the cavities are.”

The lava tubes having been detected by gravity tubes means that they run over several kilometres with height and width of a minimum of one kilometre. This would make the lava tube at Marius Hills large enough to accommodate for a lunar base.


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