NASA scientists believe that caves on the moon could provide perfect shelter for astronauts, and the pits they have found may connect to a series of tunnels under the lunar surface.
At first glance, the pits that NASA scientists describe look to be impact craters, yet the large holes in the moon’s surface are actually the result of collapsed lava tubes, io9 reports. NASA has discovered more than 200 of the pits since 2009, using the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera. The smallest of the pits measures just 16 feet across, while the largest is a staggering 2,950 feet in diameter.
Lunar Caves May Provide Shelter for a Future Moon Colony http://t.co/yI4afY64UX pic.twitter.com/MCw5x8TX9X
— Jeff (@cogni_twit) July 18, 2014
Most of the holes are located in craters that show evidence of impact melt ponds, where asteroids striking the moon’s surface caused lava to heat up and then later solidify. They are exclusive to craters that are geologically young, less than a billion years old.
Robert Wagner, the researcher from Arizona State University who discovered the holes, posits that they could be ideal habitats for astronauts seeking to establish a lunar colony, Motherboard reports. “Pits would be useful in a support role for human activity on the lunar surface,” Wagner says, pointing out that such a cave would provide an ideal site for establishing a presence on the moon:
“A habitat placed in a pit—ideally several dozen meters back under an overhang—would provide a very safe location for astronauts: no radiation, no micrometeorites, possibly very little dust, and no wild day-night temperature swings.”
While there is no way to know for certain at this point, NASA believes that the caves were formed by ancient lava streams which hollowed out tubes underneath the moon’s surface. The process is similar to the way in which lava tubes form here on Earth.
The 45th anniversary of man’s first landing on the moon is quickly approaching, as The Inquisitr has previously reported. Though man has not returned to the moon since the Apollo program came to a close in 1972, some have speculated that a return to the Earth’s only satellite may be an effective stepping stone to landing an astronaut on Mars. Others have suggested bypassing the moon in favor of a direct attempt to reach the red planet. Yet another initiative currently in development at NASA calls for the redirection of a near-Earth asteroid to an orbit around the moon, where astronauts will be able to land on it.
Wagner posits that the next logical step is to send a probe to examine the holes. “Pits, by their nature, cannot be explored very well from orbit,” he says, advocating for further exploration of the caves, which may hold the key to NASA’s future on the moon.
[Image via Universe Today]