Scientists analyzing data from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) spacecraft and computer modeling have discovered shadowy locations in pits on the Moon that still hover around a comfortable temperature of around 17 degrees Celsius, a temperature suitable for humans.
The pits and caves would make thermally stable sites for lunar exploration compared to areas on the Moon’s surface, which heat up to about 127 degrees Celsius during the day and cool down to about minus 173 degrees Celsius the night.
Lunar exploration is part of NASA’s goal to explore and understand the unknown in space, to inspire and benefit humanity.
Pits were first discovered on the moon in 2009, and since then scientists have wondered if they lead to caves that could be explored or used as shelters. The pits or caves would also protect against cosmic rays, solar radiation and micrometeorites.
“About 16 of the more than 200 pits are likely collapsed lava tubes,” said Tyler Horvath, a doctoral student in planetary sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles, who led the new research recently published in the journal. Geophysical Research Letters.
“Lunar pits are a fascinating feature of the lunar surface,” said LRO project scientist Noah Petro, of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “Knowing that they create a stable thermal environment helps us paint a picture of these unique lunar features and the prospect of exploring them one day.”
Horvath processed data from Diviner, a thermal camera, to find out if the temperature inside the pits diverged from that on the surface.
Focusing on a roughly cylindrical depression 100 meters deep that is about the length and width of a football field in an area of the Moon known as Mare Tranquillitatis, Horvath and his colleagues have used computer modeling to analyze the thermal properties of rock and lunar dust and to plot pit temperatures over time.
The results revealed that temperatures in the permanently shaded parts of the pit fluctuate only slightly throughout the lunar day, remaining at around 17 degrees Celsius. If a cave extends from the bottom of the pit, as images taken by LRO’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera suggest, it too would have this relatively comfortable temperature.
The team believes the shade overhang is responsible for temperature stability, limiting heat during the day and preventing heat from radiating out at night.
A day on the Moon lasts about 15 Earth days, during which the surface is constantly bombarded by sunlight and is often hot enough to boil water. The brutally cold nights also last about 15 Earth days.
Launched on June 18, 2009, LRO has collected a treasure trove of data with its seven powerful instruments, making an invaluable contribution to our knowledge of the Moon.
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