Could this newly discovered moon chasm be home to mankind’s first lunar colony?

Ever since man landed on the moon almost half a century ago, we have harboured hope that humans would live there as lunar colonists one day.

For years, scientists have wondered whether those crater-like features we see on the lunar surface could prove useful for astronauts when they attempt to colonise the Earth’s satellite in the future.

Researchers from Japan and the United States have found new evidence that these fissures actually exist – and that the large crater in the Marius Hills region of the moon is connected to a huge lava tube.

This means that if humans were to ever live on the lunar surface, a chasm beneath the crust could offer shelter from hazardous conditions ranging from radiation to dust.

The Marius Hills Skylight (Nasa)

The tubes are created when the lava flow develops a hard crust and forms a roof above the stream. Once the lava stops flowing, the tunnel sometimes drains, creating a hollow space inside.

“It’s important to know where and how big lunar lava tubes are if we’re ever going to construct a lunar base,” said Junichi Haruyama, a senior researcher at Jaxa, Japan’s space agency.

“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.”

Scientists analysed radar data from Jaxa’s SELENE spacecraft, which was designed to study the origins of the moon and its geological history.

An image of the moon taken by Nasa’s Galileo spacecraft (Nasa/JPL)

They found a “distinctive echo pattern” near the Marius Hills Skylight, which consisted of “a decrease in echo power followed by a large second echo peak”.

The researchers believe this evidence points to a hollow subterranean tube.

In fact, the team found similar echo patterns at several locations around the Marius Hills hole, indicating there may be more than one tunnel.

And it just so happens that Nasa already had a lunar laboratory in that region collecting data on the moon’s gravitational field as part of its GRAIL mission.

The US space agency was able to identify mass deficits – areas on the lunar surface where mass appears to be missing.

The city of Philadelphia shown inside a theoretical lunar lava tube (David Blair/Purdue University)

By combining the SELENE and GRAIL data, the scientists were able to prove that the subterranean cavity is several kilometres in length and at least one kilometre in height and width.

According to the scientists, this means the lava tunnel near the Marius Hills “is spacious enough to house one of the United States’ largest cities”.

The discovery comes as many countries around the world unveil plans for lunar missions – with Japan aiming for a manned mission by 2030 and China setting a deadline of 2036.

Meanwhile, Mike Pence recently announced that the Trump administration will redirect the US’s focus in space to the moon.

The research is published in Geophysical Research Letters.


 

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