“Exploration Bases for Future Astronauts” –Japan’s Selene Probe Discovers Enormous Caves on the Moon

 

Earth_and_limb_835

 

Japan’s space agency announced that its Selenological and Engineering Explorer (Selene) probe, has discovered an enormous cave beneath the lunar surface that will boost plans by several countries to send astronauts to the moon almost half a century after the Apollo 11 mission. Using a radar sounder system that can examine underground structures, the orbiter initially found a chasm 50 50km (31 miles) long and 100 metres wide, prompting speculation that there could be a larger hollow. This week scientists at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (Jaxa) confirmed the presence of a cave after examining the hole using radio waves.


It has been hypothesized that the remains of the 3.5 billion-year-old lava tube—could serve as a shield for lunar astronauts from micrometeorites, intense radiation on the surface of the moon, as well as temperature swings that can plummet from 100°C (212°F) days into frigid -173°C(-280°F) nights, according to the findings published in Geophysical Research Letters.

 

“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, adding that the 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 radiatio

“The same stable and protected environment that would benefit future human explorers also makes them an enticing target for scientific study. Careful examination of their interiors could provide unique insights concerning the evolutionary history of the moon, he concluded.”

The chasm appears to be structurally sound and its rocks may contain ice or water deposits that could be turned into fuel, according to data sent back by the orbiter, nicknamed Kaguya after the moon princess in a Japanese fairytale. Jaxa believes the cave, located from a few dozen metres 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.

 

Yxlzwrfgqwhru5k3pvns (1)

The agency said the chamber could be used as a base for astronauts and their equipment, because it would protect them from extreme temperatures – ranging from an average of 107C during the day to -153C at night – and radiation from the sun’s ultraviolet rays.

“We haven’t actually seen the inside of the cave itself so there are high hopes that exploring it will offer more details,” Haruyama said.

In a 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 lunar and Mars exploration program. “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.”

The Daily Galaxy via The Guardian  and Quartz.com

Image credit: NASA and Goddard Space Flight Center

"The Galaxy" in Your Inbox, Free, Daily