A new scientific study suggests that lava tubes exist on the moon and are large enough to shelter an entire city.
The study was conducted by a team of researchers from Purdue University and according to them, these lunar lava tubes are very important for future human space exploration, mostly because they could provide shelter from meteorite impact, cosmic radiation or extreme temperatures.
The scientists explain that lava tubes are actually very large tunnels formed by the lava flow after a volcanic eruption. As the lava flows, a pipe-like crust forms around the flowing of the river of boiling lava. When the eruption and the lava flow stops, they leave behind a tunnel-like tube, according to Jay Melosh, professor of earth, atmospheric and planetary sciences at Purdue University.
David Blair, one of the lead authors of the study, said that the lunar lava tubes could be stable at a width of more than 5,000 miles, if these tubes have strong arched shapes similar to those found on Earth.
Although this kind of structures would not be possible on our planet, the fact that the Moon has a reduced gravity and the lunar rock has a different degree of erosion, it could theoretically exist.
The researchers found that the stability of the lava tubes depend on the width, the thickness of the roof and the stress rate after the lava has cooled.
Taking all these factors into consideration, the scientists made models of lava tubes and created the walls by placing lava in a thick layer and lava in several thin layers, Blair explained.
According to Melosh, the researchers have been using gravity data collected by GRAIL in order to search if there were any existing lava tubes under the surface of the moon. Melosh said that the search is quite difficult mainly because the GRAIL data is limited and cannot tell exactly the signature of the lava tubes.
Even though the scientists are not 100% certain that the lunar lava tubes exist, they still want to find their maximum size limit, in case the tubes existed.
If these lunar tunnels prove to be real the researchers believe they could be used as lunar shelters for future moon explorations.
These shelters would be used by humans when they go out to space for exploring. The lava tubes could also protect future space explorers from cosmic radiation as they are preparing for longer expeditions.
Image Source: nasa.gov