Lunar caves could provide shelter for astronauts

Lunar caves could provide shelter for astronauts
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A typical weather forecast on the Moon is nowhere comfortable, temperatures simmering during the day, ranging up to 280 below zero at night. However, according to a new study, unique features known as, can offer moon pits an oasis from the rollercoaster temperatures.

A team of planetary scientists at UCLA used NASA’s thermal imaging to learn how these moon troughs might be inside. Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and the determined temperature is always a consistent 63 degrees in at least one of these pits. The findings were recently published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, and UCLA’s newsroom is calling it the year-round discovery of “sweater weather.”

One of the study authors, the planetary science Ph.D. Tyler Horvath. A student at UCLA said the pit could be the opening of a lava tube or cavern and would be an ideal place to live for astronauts, providing excellent temperatures as well as protection from meteors and radiation.

“Imagine a full day on the moon… you have 15 days of extreme heat that goes well beyond the boiling point of water. And then there’s 15 days of extreme cold, some of the lowest temperatures in the entire solar system,” Horvath said. “So being in a place where you don’t have to expend energy to keep yourself warm for 15 days a night is almost priceless because if you’re trying to use solar energy as your main form of energy during the night. if you’re getting energy, you can’t do it for 15 days.”

The UCLA research team focused on the cliff in the Sea of ​​Tranquility, about 220 miles from where Apollo 11 landed, and also in the Mare Trenquillitatis region. Apollo 17 landing site.

A comfortable pixel on the moon

A 250 meters per pixel mapping using the average of all Channel 6 and 8 luminance temperature measurements taken between 9 pm and 4 am for (a) Mare Tranquillitatis trench and (b) Mare Ingenii trench.
UCLA researchers detected a single pixel in infrared images, suggesting hotter spots on the Moon.
NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

NASA’s LRO spacecraft has been orbiting the moon continuously since 2009, making measurements with its various instruments, including the Diviner Lunar Radiometer, which has been continuously mapping the moon’s thermal emissions.

UCLA Planetary Scientist David Paige is principal investigator of the Diviner instrument and lead author of the new study on the lunar trough.

Horvath was commissioned to create a 3D model of one of these interesting pits in the Mare Trenquillitatis area. During this process, the team noticed a single pixel in the infrared images that was warmer than most spots on the moon at night when temperatures dropped.

“We noticed that it was warming up really fast and the surface was maintaining a higher temperature than it usually does at night,” Horvath said. “We say, ‘Oh, this might be more interesting than we thought’.”

The Japanese SELENE/Kaguya Terrain Camera and Multiband Imager captured the ancient volcanic region of the Moon called the Marius Hills.
The Japanese SELENE/Kaguya Terrain Camera and Multiband Imager captured the ancient volcanic region of the Moon called the Marius Hills.
NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

After rechecking the Diviner data and considering what sunlight the pit receives, the team determined the temperature of the pit floor during the day. Unfortunately, this doesn’t confirm a cave opening, but it’s still a valid theory about these pits formed by ancient volcanic activity.

“It was still a great result if there was a cave in there, it would support temperatures of 63 degrees Fahrenheit all the time, 24 sevens a day forever,” Horvath said. Said.

How the Trenquillitatis trench and other caves on the Moon maintain their temperature comes down to a physics concept known as the blackbody cavity that can self-regulate to maintain its temperature.

“It’s actually a surface that’s an excellent radiation emitter and radiation absorber,” explains Horvath.

The temperature at the bottom of the pit also depends on its position relative to the Earth and the moon from the sun.

“The closer you are to the sun, the warmer the temperature,” Horvath said. “The further you are from the sun, the colder it gets.”

How did lava tubes form on the Moon?

Even from Earth, it’s clear that the moon has interesting properties, including craters of all shapes and sizes. In 2009, the Japanese spacecraft Kaguya orbiting the moon discovered a new type of lunar feature in the form of deep cliffs that researchers believe may contain created caves. by collapsed lava tubes, Similar to those found on Earth.

Thurston Lava Tube - Volcanoes National Park, Big Island, Hawaii, USA.
UCLA researchers believe the Moon has lava caves similar to Devil’s Throat in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
Sergi Reboredo/VW PICS/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Horvath explains that billions of years ago there was very intense volcanic activity and lava flows. created dark spots We see it today when we look at the moon. The lava at the surface would cool first because it would be exposed to the cold temperatures of space, where the lava still flows through the cavities underneath.

“In some places, this lava will separate completely, leaving a hollow tube under the surface, a lava tube,” Horvath said. Said. “These pits are a kind of way of seeing that they exist, that there is a way into them, and that they can be anywhere.”

NASA explains moon troughs as “skylights” where the roof of the lava tube collapses.

Around the world, the UCLA research team behind the study even visited a lava tube in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, known as Devil’s Throat, resembling the Mare Trenquillitatis pit. The park is home to other lava tubes, like the one pictured above, that visitors can wade through.

Without physically going to the moon and rock climbing into one of these pits, it will be difficult for researchers to find out if these vast caves exist. This may eventually be possible, because within the next four years NASA plans to return humans to the moon and establish a permanent base.

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