Japan’s Selenological and Engineering Explorer (SELENE) probe has discovered a huge underground cave on the surface of the moon. The discovery was made by an international research team and published in the Journal of Geophysical Research Letters on 28 October 2017.
The discovery was made using the SELENE probe’s Lunar Radar Sounder (LRS). The LRS initially detected an anomaly while conducting a brief survey of Marius Hills Hole (MHH), a skylight researchers believed would lead to an intact lava tube. The probe was then retasked to more closely examine MHH confirming the presence of the intact tube.
Although the cave will need to be studied further, researchers believe it would be the ideal location for a human settlement. “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,” explained the research team.
This kind of location would be ideal for a manned base as it will offer a natural shield from the extreme lunar conditions. Unlike Earth, the moon has no atmosphere or magnetic field to protect the surface from extreme temperatures, radiation and meteorite impacts. As a result, if we are to spend long periods of time on the lunar surface, we will need the level of protection an underground base would offer.
Andy Weir, author of The Martian believes that a settlement on the lunar surface is not only feasible but inevitable. “A lot of people who would like us to just leap-frog to Mars, but Mars is so much farther away. It would be like if the ancient British colonized North America before they colonized Wales. It’s just … The moon is definitely the first place that we will colonize,” explained the author in a recent interview with Business Insider.
A lunar base may sound fantastical but there are already several nations and private contractors working towards it. During the first meeting of the US National Space Council in decades, the Vice President, Mike Pence announced his administration’s support for American astronauts returning to the Moon. In a statement, Pence explained, “”We will return NASA 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 second race to the moon has, it would seem, begun!
Image Credit: ESA/Foster + Partners