Trust Me, Living on the Moon Will Be Hell

By Ryan F. Mandelbaum on at

Humans (not you, you’ll be dead) are going to have to live somewhere other than Earth eventually. There might be some options for new homes on Mars, the planet orbiting Proxima Centauri, or even one of the planets in the Trappist-1 system. But what about the Moon for starters? It’s round like our Earth, it’s close, it’s got gravity—what more could you want?

Well, probably a few books, a video game console, and one of those bright lamps for people with seasonal affective disorder. Some scientists are now suggesting that you might be living in a tube.

The moon doesn’t have an atmosphere or a magnetic field to protect us from the Sun, meteors or cosmic rays, so we can’t live on its surface. But a team of Japanese scientists looking at some deep lunar pits think they’ve found more than just a hole—they think they’ve found tunnels that cut through our satellite’s volcanic rock for miles. They might be our first home beyond Earth.

Scientists first discovered the tens-of-metres-deep Marius Hills pit back in 2009, and reported their results the next year. Then, last year, NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission discovered gravitational anomalies that could have indicated hollow spaces within the pits, according to reporting by Eos. Researchers wondered whether these could be lava tubes, horizontal tunnels, or bigger, open magma chambers.

Marius Hills pit (Image: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University)

Now, scientists using Japan’s Kaguya spacecraft have found hollow spaces tens of kilometres long near the deep Marius Hills pits using radar. They reported their results at the 48th annual Lunar and Planetary Science conference this past week.

We’ve got our own lava tubes on Earth that make Moon tubes seem not-so-strange. In our planet’s case, they form when magma cools around a flowing river of lava, eventually leaving a hollow space, according to the Craters of the Moon National Monument page.

We can’t be 100 per cent sure we’ve actually found lava tubes on the Moon unless we explore the craters ourselves—and lunar exploration has taken a backseat to Mars exploration in recent years. But Eos did dig up another conference paper about actually imaging the tubes using LIDAR (like radar but with lasers instead of radio waves) and Craters of the Moon as an Earth-based analogue. So maybe we could start there.

Image: Garry et Al

So, will future humans, much like our distant ancestors, revert to cave dwelling? Probably not, unless we also find a way to adapt to the physical and psychological stresses of space, figure out a way to mine any lunar oxygen and create water out of it, successfully grow plants and create food without sunlight... you get the picture.

But hey, at least we might have beer on the Moon. [Eos]