Both scientists and Sci-fi authors have long dreamed of human colonies on the Moon. The space race between USA and The Soviet Union has made significant advances in our knowledge of Earth’s closest buddy, but it was nearly abandoned altogether in favor of Mars as a potential space colony site. Now Japan’s Selenological and Engineering Explorer (Selene) probe has discovered a 50 km cave system on Mars that could be modified into a protective pressurized lunar base. The Moon is popular again, all of a sudden!
Colonization day may have drawn a little closer after Japan’s space agency said it had discovered an enormous cave beneath the Moon’s surface that’s solid enough to be used for a base, and would be cheaper to build and secure than any surface design is able to do.
Using a radar sounder system that can examine underground structures, Japan’s orbiter probe initially found an opening 50 meters wide and 50 meters deep, prompting speculation that there could be a larger space inside – which was confirmed after examining the hole with radio waves.
Scientists at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (Jaxa) say the chasm is 50km long and 100 meters wide, appears to be structurally stable:
“We’ve known about these locations that were thought to be lava tubes … but their existence has not been confirmed until now,” said Junichi Haruyama, a senior researcher at Jaxa.
The cave may contain ice or water deposits that could be turned into fuel, according to data sent back by the orbiter dubbed Kaguya (after the moon princess in a Japanese folk story).
Jaxa believes the cave, located from a few dozen meters to 200 meters beneath an area of volcanic domes known as the Marius Hills on the moon’s near side, is a lava tube created during volcanic activity about 3.5bn years ago.
Lava tubes “might be the best candidate sites for future lunar bases, because of their stable thermal conditions and potential to protect people and instruments from micrometeorites and cosmic ray radiation,” Haruyama said.
In another sign that the US and Soviet Union’s cold war battle for supremacy has been replaced by an Asian space race, China has said it wants to conduct its first manned mission to the moon in around 2036 as part of its ambitious lunar and Mars exploration programmes. Last year it said it had plans to eventually create a colony there.
“Our long-term goal is to explore, land, and settle,” Wu Weiren, the chief designer of China’s moon and Mars missions, told the BBC. “We want a manned lunar landing to stay for longer periods and establish a research base.”
Russia, too, hopes to start colonizing – initially for just four people – on the moon by 2030, but even though it seems far away into the future, it’s exciting to know that it might happen alongside Mars missions before the second half of the century.