Categories: Moon

Very Clever! LRO Views Huge Lava Tube Skylight in Mare Ingenii


Is this a window into the interior of the Moon, and an entrance to a potential future lunar habitat? The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera has taken a closer look at what is thought to be a skylight into a lava tube in the Mare Ingenii (The Sea of Cleverness) region, one of the few lunar mare features on the far side of the Moon. This skylight is huge — about 130 meters (427 feet) in diameter — and is probably the result of a partially collapsed lava tube. But lunar geologists really weren’t expecting to see this kind unusual feature in this region. Previously, a skylight, or open pit was found in the Marius Hills region in the Ocean of Storms on the near side which is filled with volcanic domes and rilles where a lava tube might form. However, those kinds of volcanic features are not found in Mare Ingenii. LRO will definitely be taking additional looks at this pit.

The Japanese SELENE/Kaguya spacecraft first discovered this irregularly-shaped hole, visible in the top image at LROC’s 0.55 m/pixel resolution. The boulders and debris resting on the floor of the pit are partially illuminated (left side of the pit) and probably originated at the surface, falling through the pit opening during collapse.

Arrow indicates location of pit. "S" indicates one of the numerous lunar swirls located in this region. Image is a portion of LROC WAC mosaic, 200 meters per pixel resolution; image width is 160 km (100 miles). Credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

This could be an important find for several reasons. Lava tubes are important in understanding how lava was transported on the early moon, but they could also provide a home to future human explorers. This one on the far side would be a great place to set up a base for future telescopes proposed for observations out into the Universe from the Moon’s far side. The Moon’s surface is a harsh place, the human body doesn’t do well when exposed to the constant radiation present on the Moon’s atmosphere-less environment. Long term human presence would work if astronauts could spend most of their time shielded underground. While excavating a hole large enough to fit an entire moon colony in it would be a huge engineering challenge, these lava tubes could provide ready-made locations for a well-shielded base.

Read our previous article about the pit in the Marius Hills.

Here’s a look at a huge lava tube in Hawaii. It looks almost man-made, but is a natural feature created by volcanism:

Thurston lava tube is located on Kilauea in Hawaii. Credit: P. Mouginis-Mark, LPI

How lava tubes form: when lava flows out onto the surface, it cools on top and may form a solid roof. The roof insulates the still-liquid lava below it, allowing it to continue to flow, sometimes for several kilometers. At the end of the eruption, the lava can drain completely out of the tube, leaving a hollow remnant of the flow that forms an underground cavern. This tube, called Thurston Tube, is about 3 meters in height.

Sources: LROC website, Planetary Blog

Nancy Atkinson

Nancy has been with Universe Today since 2004. She is the author of a new book on the Apollo program, "Eight Years to the Moon," which shares the stories of 60 engineers and scientists who worked behind the scenes to make landing on the Moon possible. Her first book, "Incredible Stories from Space: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Missions Changing Our View of the Cosmos" tells the stories of those who work on NASA's robotic missions to explore the Solar System and beyond.

Recent Posts

Unistellar’s Plans for Science and Astronomy in 2022

Unistellar’s eVscope has proven its ability to do serious astronomy, with more to come in…

21 hours ago

Finally, an Explanation for the Cold Spot in the Cosmic Microwave Background

A new study by the Dark Energy Survey (DES) has confirmed the existence of a…

2 days ago

5,000 Exoplanets!

Before NASA's TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite) mission launched in 2018, astronomers tried to understand…

2 days ago

Incredible Image Shows Twin Stellar Jets Blasting Out of a Star-Forming Region

Young stars go through a lot as they're being born. They sometimes emit jets of…

2 days ago

Missing Mass? Not on our Watch—Dr. Paul Sutter Explains Dark Matter

In the first episode of a new series with ArsTechnica - Edge of Knowledge -…

3 days ago

Webb Has Arrived Successfully at L2

It’s really happening. The James Webb Space Telescope has successfully reached its orbital destination in…

3 days ago