Scientists May Have Discovered Lava Tubes Near The North Pole Of The Moon

Posted: Jan 14 2018, 8:12am CST | by , in News | Latest Science News

 
Scientists may have Discovered Lava Tubes Near the North Pole of the Moon
Newly discovered lava tube skylight candidates at Philolaus Crater near the North Pole of the Moon (NASA/Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter/SETI Institute/Mars Institute/Pascal Lee).

The potential lava tubes could provide more direct access to subsurface ice on moon

Using imaging data from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), researchers have discovered a number of small pits inside a large crater near the North Pole of the Moon and these pits could possibly lead to the hidden network of lava tubes in moon’s interior.

Lava tubes are underground caves created by volcanic activity. They could allow future explorers easier access to ice beneath moon’s surface and therefore water – an ingredient necessary for sustaining life.

Scientists had assumed for years that Moon had always been bone dry, but in recent years, multiple missions have confirmed the existence of water ice at many regions of lunar poles. The finding of small pits in lunar poles bolsters the idea that moon’s interior is indeed water-rich.

The small pits are located on the northeastern floor of Philolaus Crater, which is a large 43-mile wide impact crater on the North Pole of the Moon. The pits appear as small rimless depressions and range in size from 50 to 100 feet in diameter. They are running along "sinuous rilles," which is a small yet one of the most recognizable volcanic features on the Moon. Lunar sinuous rilles are generally thought to be lava channels or collapsed lava tubes that formed during mare volcanism.

“The highest resolution images available for Philolaus Crater do not allow the pits to be identified as lava tube skylights with 100 percent certainty, but we are looking at good candidates considering simultaneously their size, shape, lighting conditions and geologic setting." Pascal Lee, planetary scientist at the SETI Institute and the Mars Institute who made the new finding at NASA's Ames Research Center said in a statement.

Researchers have described these findings exciting. If lave tubes are present and contain massive formations of ice, they could be used as water resource in future lunar missions.

"Our next step should be further exploration, to verify whether these pits are truly lava tube skylights, and if they are, whether the lava tubes actually contain ice. This is an exciting possibility that a new generation of caving astronauts or robotic spelunkers could help address." said Lee. "Exploring lava tubes on the Moon will also prepare us for the exploration of lava tubes on Mars. There, we will face the prospect of expanding our search for life into the deeper underground of Mars where we might find environments that are warmer, wetter, and more sheltered than at the surface."

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