Lava tubes could offer protection from meteorites and radiation. Image Credit: NASA / Sean Smith
The Japanese space agency JAXA has announced the discovery of a cave hidden beneath the lunar surface.
Picked up by Japan’s orbiting Selenological and Engineering Explorer (Selene) probe using a special radar sounder system capable of examining underground structures, the enormous cave is thought to be relatively stable and stretches for around 50 kilometers with a width and depth of 50 meters.
Scientists believe that the cave, which is thought to be a lava tube formed by volcanic activity 3.5 billion years ago, could contain ice or water deposits along its walls, making it a particularly good location for astronauts to set up a base.
“We’ve known about these locations that were thought to be lava tubes… but their existence has not been confirmed until now,” said JAXA senior researcher Junichi Haruyama.
“[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 radiation.”
JAXA is hoping to launch a manned mission to the Moon by 2030 and it is likely that this newly discovered cave will be the subject of multiple new studies before then.
“We haven’t actually seen the inside of the cave itself so there are high hopes that exploring it will offer more details,” said Haruyama.