Ahmedabad, Feb.9: Indian scientists have discovered a natural tunnel near the equator of the Moon, which is even bigger than that discovered by the Japanese, says A S Arya, scientist SF of Ahmedabad-based Space Application Centre.
Arya told Economic Times that it was an empty volcanic tube, measuring about 2 kilometer in length and 360 meters in width. This could be potential site for human settlement on the moon, he added.
The discovery of the cave came up from analyzing the data from Chandrayaan-I.
Arya was attending a two-day conference at Physical Research Laboratory (PRL) on Monday. He will be presenting a paper on the discovery at the LPC (Lunar and Planetary Science Conference) scheduled to be held at Houston from March 1-5.
“This is a horizontal cave and is much bigger than the Japanese discovery,” he said referring to the recent findings by a Japanese spacecraft, Kaguya.
This spacecraft had discovered a tunnel which was 65 m wide and 80 m deep in the volcanic Marius hill range on the lunar surface.
“This finding would go a long way in India’s quest to set up a permanent base on the Moon. Such wide tunnels could sustain underground lunar outposts, while the ceilings could help protect astronauts from space radiation, meteoroid impacts and wild temperature fluctuations (up 300 degree centrigrade) that is commonplace on the lunar surface,” Arya explained.
The finding comes as a shot in the arm for the Indian scientists after Chandrayaan-I had recently discovered water on the Moon. There are similar lava tubes on Earth. They are formed when molten rock, flowing from a volcanic eruption, cools and hardens on top while the lava underneath continues to flow. If the lava drains completely, a cavern is left. Scientists have long suspected that such rock formations existed on the moon, but lacked evidence until now.
According to scientists, Lunar lava tubes are a potentially important location for a future lunar base, whether for local exploration and development, or as an outpost to serve exploration beyond the moon. Moreover, the lunar environment neither has an atmosphere nor a magnetic field, so the radiation from the sun can directly affect humans and severely damage our cells. So, on the lunar surface, one needs to get into areas where you can avoid radiation.
“The findings happened while the data from the TMC (Terrain Mapping Camera) was being analysed,” the scientist said. The TMC was one of the five Indian payload that was onboard Chandrayaan-I. “Moreover, this particular cave is situated near the equator where most of the lunar missions have landed so far,” he said.