Lava Tubes on the Moon Could Contain Water for Astronauts
A new discovery from the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute and the Mars Institute may have uncovered an interesting possibility for the future of lunar colonization.
One of the big issues surrounding life on the moon is gaining a solid, useful water supply. We know that ice exists on the moon in large, frozen pools, and thus far, most plans for lunar colonies have revolved around building a base that's as close to one of these supplies as possible.
Converting that ice into moon water also has other potential uses - it could, for example, make for excellent rocket fuel, if the oxygen in water is stripped away, meaning that any moon base we build could serve as a fueling station for missions to more distant parts of the solar system.
What if, SETI suggests in their new proposal, we didn't need to build lunar colonies exactly on top of craters containing water? What if, instead, we were able to funnel water through existing tunnels created by lava flows within the ground, so that we can drip water from beneath the surface of the moon, making everyone's jobs easier?
Possible Lava Tube Skylights Discovered Near the North Pole of the Moon - small pits in a large crater near the North Pole of the Moon, which may be entrances to an underground network of lava tubes | @pascalleetweets https://t.co/48edtN8zzX pic.twitter.com/eHZvmkjCQk— The SETI Institute (@SETIInstitute) January 12, 2018
We've known for a long time that the moon contains these kinds of underground tunnels, which are believed to be leftover from its days as a far more volatile, volcanic sphere. Now, SETI has released a series of photographs which they argue show how a crater on the moon, named the Philolaus Crater, houses such lava tubes that connect directly to the moon's poles, making water extraction easy.
According to Pascal Lee, a scientist involved with SETI's report:
That said, not everybody is convinced that these tunnels are as useful as they look. The Smithsonian's Air & Space Magazine challenges SETI's claims, both arguing that the tunnels don't actually lead to the moon's poles, and noting that any water we find on the moon will be present in ice form, making it impossible to extract by simply pouring it through a tunnel.
The article in question also calls into question the claims that these tunnels were created by lava, noting that molten rock can also be the product of meteor strikes - such as the kind that must have, logically, formed the Philolaus Crater.
It seems that further examination and research may be necessary before we can determine whether or not these tunnels will prove useful for future lunar colonists.
Either way, it seems like the Philolaus Crater will be an interesting place for future moon missions to explore, even if it ultimately proves that we'll need to take the simplest route by building a colony next to a body of water, instead of trying to mess around with a maze of underground lunar tunnels. As cool as that would be.