Scientists just uncovered a potential location for humankind’s first space colony: an old underground lava tube on the Moon.
In a paper published by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) in the Geophysical Research Letters, the team reported the discovery of an enormous cavern beneath the Moon’s surface. The cavern was found to be carved millions of years ago by flowing lava.
By the way, if you want to learn a little more about NASA’s Moon-related aspirations, read this article.
The cavern was discovered around the Marius Hills area where a set of Moon’s volcanic domes are situated. The domes in Marius Hills have an average size of approximately 200 to 500 meters in height.
Based on studies, the domes within this area are believed to have been formed from lava flows much stronger than those discovered in Moon’s Lunar Mare regions.
Surprisingly, the area is not just a host to vast lava domes, but also to an equally sizeable underground lava tubes as well. According to JAXA, researchers and sensitive equipment could take refuge in these ancient caverns.#JAXA finally found evidence of underground lava tubes on Moon!Click To Tweet
Underground Lava Tube: Moon’s Hidden Secret
It was in 2009 when the JAXA team first analyzed the data obtained from the Selenological and Engineering Explorer (SELENE), which is also called the Kaguya Moon probe. Researchers found a massive shaft with an opening that spans 50 meters in diameter in the Marius Hills region of the Moon.
Further investigation showed that the shaft has a depth of about 50 meters from the Moon’s surface.
Using additional information taken from a Lunar Radar Sounder (LRS) onboard SELENE indicated that an underground structure also extends to the west from the shaft. The construction of the cavern confirmed that it was likely created by active volcanic activity millions of years ago but that it has not collapsed.
In a separate statement, Jay Melosh, a space investigator from GRAIL (a NASA project to collect high-quality information on the moon) said:
“They knew about the skylight in the Marius Hills, but they didn’t have any idea how far that underground cavity might have gone. 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 JAXA team also added that there’s a possibility that ice or water exists in rocks within the cave.
Should future innovations allow humans to build a base on the Moon, the underground lava tube could be a relatively hospitable place according to the JAXA team.
Apparently, the lava tube could offer protection from extreme temperatures, meteorite showers, and harmful solar radiation. A part of the JAXA team’s research read:
“Intact lunar lava tubes offer a pristine environment to conduct scientific examination of the Moon’s composition and potentially serve as secure shelters for humans and instruments.”
Experts have long speculated on the existence of lava tubes on the Moon, going all the way back to the Apollo space mission era. Its actual discovery marks another breakthrough that could aid in achieving astronomers’ lifelong dream of inhabiting other celestial bodies.
Recently, the U.S. government expressed its interest in sending another human back to the moon.
If you followed the article link at the beginning of this piece, you may have learned that U.S. President Donald Trump chose Jim Bridenstine as the new NASA director. He’s a U.S. Representative that is positively wild about the Moon.
In fact, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence has already laid out some plans at a meeting with the National Space Council late this summer. Pence was quoted as saying:
“We will return American astronauts to the moon, not only to leave behind footprints and flags, but to build the foundation we need to send Americans to Mars and beyond. The moon will be a stepping stone, a training ground, a venue to strengthen our commercial and international partnerships as we refocus America’s space program toward human space exploration.”
While government-run and private space agencies alike are eyeing Mars as humankind’s first colony, the Moon might be colonized first. At the very least, a base or space station will likely be established there. After all, this is a goal of the new deep space mission partnership between NASA and Roscosmos, which you can read more about here.