The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) found a huge cave on the surface of the moon, which could serve as a base and shelter for astronauts in the future.
Are we getting closer and closer to building a base on the moon?
We may be one small step closer to colonizing the moon. In fact, according to Bernard Foing, ambassador of the European Space Agency’s international “Moon Village” program, we may have a lunar colony by the year 2050. By 2030, there will be a settlement composed of six to 10 scientists, engineers, and technicians. In just a few decades, Foing says, there will be children born not on Earth, but on the moon.
However, this lunar colony has to start somewhere. JAXA’s Selenological and Engineering Explorer (Selene) probe, a lunar orbiter, has found a lunar cavern that’s 50 kilometers long and 100 meters wide. According to the agency’s scientists, volcanic activity that occurred 3.5 billion years ago created a lava tube, which is what the cavern seems to be.
The cavern in question [Image by NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University]
Initially, astronomers thought that what Selene spotted was merely a hole on the moon’s surface. However, upon further investigation using radio waves, the researchers found that it was actually the opening to a miles-long lava tube. The site is located under an area called Marius Hills, which are a set of volcanic domes. The discovery of the cavern also confirms that lava tubes, which were previously just mere speculation, actually exist.
There’s a lot that these lava tubes can offer, not just to the creation of a lunar colony but also to our knowledge about our only natural satellite. “Careful examination of their interiors could provide unique insights concerning the evolutionary history of the moon,” says JAXA researcher Junichi Haruyama.
The inside of a lava tube on Earth. Will lava tubes on Mars look the same? [Photo by ESA/S. Sechi]
Observations show that the cavern appears to be structurally sound. There may also be water and ice deposits in the rock within the cavern, which can serve as fuel. This will definitely be useful if lunar settlers turn the cavern into a base.
However, fuel isn’t the only thing that the cavern has to offer. The structure of the lava tube can also serve as protection for astronauts and their instruments against radiation and micrometeorites. Lava tubes also have stable temperatures. If we take all these into account, lava tubes seem to be the best places in which to build our first bases on the moon.
Of course, there’s just one small tiff: no one has actually ever been inside the cavern, much less the lava tube it opens up to. However, astronomers are remaining optimistic, expecting that exploring the cavern will reveal more useful information.
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