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In early human history, caves offered people protection from the elements and a home. Now, similar formations on the Moon could provide pioneering astronauts with a safe lunar haven, thanks to their Earth-like temperatures.
The moon has pits with shadowy areas that regularly hover around 63 degrees Fahrenheit (17 degrees Celsius), a stable temperate range for humans, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles have found. The newspaper Geophysical Research Letters published the study in July.
These craters, which can potentially lead to caves that could also provide human shelter, have temperatures that could make lunar exploration and long-term human habitation on the moon safer, as scientists could set up camps for thermally stable base.
“Humans evolved living in caves, and to caves we could return when we live on the moon,” said study co-author David Paige, professor of planetary sciences at UCLA. in a Press release. Paige also directs the Diviner Lunar Radiometer experiment, an instrument on NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.
Now that there is a better understanding of potential pits and caves, scientists could possibly pick up the pace toward conceptualizing a functioning permanent station, protected from the moon’s extreme surface conditions.
“We may be able to establish a long-term presence on the Moon sooner than would have been possible otherwise,” said study lead author Tyler Horvath, a doctoral student in planetary sciences at the UCLA.
Unlike the moon’s surface, which heats up to 260 degrees Fahrenheit (127 degrees Celsius) during the day and drops to minus 280 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 173 degrees Celsius) at night, these lunar pits in the Mare Tranquillitatis region have a friendly environment, stable temperature.
(Mare Tranquillitatis, commonly called the sea of tranquilityis where Apollo 11, the first mission to land humans on the moon, landed due to its smooth and relatively flat terrain.)
The data comes from an analysis of images taken by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft and computer modeling.
“These (pits) are just at the resolution limit of the cameras they’re trying to use,” said Briony Horgan, associate professor of earth, atmospheric and planetary sciences at Purdue University West. Lafayette, Indiana. “The fact that they’re able to extract that data and show that it was pretty compelling, I think that’s a big step forward in observing the moon.”
Knowing more about these probable pits and caves helps scientists better understand the behavior of other extreme environments, such as the lunar polar regions where the Artemis mission is taking place, said Noah Petro, head of the Planetary Geology Laboratory, NASA geophysics and geochemistry. The NASA Artemis program aims to get humans back to the moon and land the first woman and first person of color on the lunar surface by 2025.
“Artemis aims to send humans to the region around the South Pole, where we know there are very cold places,” Petro said by email. “Fortunately, we have a large amount of data for the south pole region where Artemis will travel.”
The moon’s surface temperature extremes made it difficult for NASA to create fully operational heating and cooling equipment that would produce enough energy to enable longer-term lunar exploration or habitation, according to the press release. . However, NASA may not need such complex equipment as currently assumed to make exploration and habitation a reality, this research has shown.
With the help of the lunar orbiter, scientists discovered pits on the moon in 2009, a discovery that prompted scientists to wonder if there were any connecting caves that could be explored or even used as shelters.
“About 16 of the more than 200 pits are likely collapsed lava tubes,” Horvath said in the press release.
When a lava tube – a long, hollow tunnel and cave-like structure formed by lava – collapses, it opens up a pit that can create an entrance to the rest of the cave.
There are at least two, probably three, pits that have overhangs that lead to caves, according to the statement.
Caves would be a stable environment for lunar habitats because they provide some protection from solar radiation and micrometeorite impacts, Horgan said. These formations could also provide a measure of protection against cosmic rays, according to NASA.
It would be helpful to build on current searches with radar data to find other potential caves, Horgan added.
The research “gives engineers who are really thinking about how to design a habitat on the moon real numbers to work with,” she said. “It will be extremely important in the future.”
Currently, NASA has robotic exploration projects on the moon through its Commercial Lunar Payload Services Program. From December 2022, the cargo flights will deliver devices that navigate and map the lunar surface, conduct surveys, measure radiation levels and assess the impact of human activity on the moon. These flights give scientists the ability to reach anywhere on the lunar surface, including Mare Tranquillitatis, Petro said.
“Continuing to map lunar surface temperature is a high priority for LRO, as we can use this information to not only better understand the environment that future surface missions will experience,” Petro said, “but we can learn also how different types of surface materials react to changing lighting conditions on the lunar surface.