The underground rooms appear to be a very suitable place to stay for people.

Missions to the Moon and Mars are now taking increasingly concrete forms. For example, the plan is to return to our natural satellite in 2024 . Meanwhile, NASA and ESA are building a real space station that will orbit the moon . And then this becomes the springboard to Mars. Ultimately, the plan is to actually inhabit these celestial bodies. These plans therefore encourage researchers to consider an important follow-up question: where exactly should we live?

Lava tunnels
The answer may well lie in lava tunnels. On Earth we find them in many volcanic areas. For example in Lanzarato and Hawaii, but also in Iceland and the Galapagos Islands. And there are strong indications that it is not a typical earthly phenomenon. Likewise, the moon and Mars would have lava tunnels. “Photos taken by interplanetary probes suggest they are there too,” says researcher Francesco Sauro.

More about lava tunnels Lava tunnels
can arise in two different ways. When lava with a low viscosity (viscousness) flows fairly close to the surface, a hard – and increasingly thicker – crust can form above the lava flow. That crust forms a roof, as it were, under which the molten part of the lava flows. When the eruptions come to an end and all the lava has run away, a tunnel remains just below the surface. In addition, lava tunnels can form when lava forces into existing fractures between rock layers. The lava expands and creates a whole network of interconnected tunnels that become empty when the eruptions stop.

The idea of ​​living in lava tunnels is certainly not a bad idea. After all, astronauts are safe from cosmic rays, solar radiation and micro-meteorites in the lava tunnels. “Moreover, the temperature in these tunnels does not vary from day to day,” Sauro sums up. And so lava tunnels have certainly sparked interest. “Space agencies are turning their attention to planetary caverns and lava tunnels as they are the first step towards future lunar surface explorations and finding life in the soil of Mars.”

Study
But before we consider living in those alien lava tunnels, we must of course investigate them more closely. In the new study, the researchers measured the size of the tunnels using digital terrain models, among other things. “We obtained these using satellite images and lasers collected by interplanetary probes,” said researcher Riccardo Pozzobon. “We then compared this data with topographic studies of similar tunnels on Earth and with laser scans of the interior of lava tunnels in Lanzarote and the Galapagos Islands.”

Dimensions
The researchers discovered that lava tunnels on the Moon and Mars are much larger than on Earth. On our planet, the cavities are usually about 10 to 30 meters in diameter. But on the Moon and Mars they are 100 and 1000 times wider, respectively. The lower gravity and its effect on volcanism may help explain these remarkable dimensions. “Tunnels as wide as these can be longer than 40 kilometers,” Pozzobon adds. “This makes the moon an extremely interesting target for underground exploration. The wide, protected lava tunnels represent interesting potential places to stay. ”

Cities
The respective lava tunnels on the Moon and Mars are so huge that they can accommodate entire cities. “The entire city center of the Italian city of Pedua may fit in,” says Pozzobon.

Stable
Moreover, the danger of collapse is not that great. “Most importantly, in addition to their impressive size, they stay well within the stability limit,” says researcher Matteo Massironi. “That’s because of the lower gravity. It means that the majority of the lava tunnels below the surface are intact. Observed collapses may have been caused by asteroids piercing the walls. We see this, for example, in the Marius Hills on the moon. But we can reach the enormous underground cavities through these openings. ”

The researchers emphasize that the study provides a whole new perspective in the exploration of other celestial objects, which is increasingly focusing on the underground possibilities on the Moon and Mars. Something ESA is very interested in. “Since 2012, ESA has been running two astronaut training programs in collaboration with several European universities, focusing on the underground systems of Lanzarote,” says researcher Jo de Waele. “So far, 36 astronauts from five different space agencies have received ‘cave walking’ training. In addition, six astronauts and four mission and operations specialists have completed geological field training. ” This shows that ESA considers the alien lava tunnels as very suitable places to stay.

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