Small pits (or holes), which may be entrances to an underground network of lava tubes have been discovered in a large crater near the North Pole of the Moon, report The SETI Institute and the Mars Institute.
Researchers analyzed imaging data from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) to make this discovery.
The pits appear as small rimless depressions, typically 50 to 100 feet across (15 to 30 meters), with completely shadowed interiors, according to press release.
The pits are located along sections of winding channels, known on the Moon as “sinuous rilles,” that crisscross the floor of Philolaus Crater. Lunar sinuous rilles are generally thought to be collapsed, or partially collapsed, lava tubes, underground tunnels that were once streams of flowing lava.
If water ice is present, these potential lava tube entrances or “skylights” might allow future explorers easier access to subsurface ice, and therefore water, than if they had to excavate the gritty ice-rich “regolith” (surface rubble) at the actual lunar poles.
oon (NASA/Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter/SETI Institute/Mars Institute/Pascal Lee).
One of the highest resolution NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter images showing some of the newly discovered lava tube skylight candidates at Philolaus Crater near the North Pole of the Moon (NASA/Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter/SETI Institute/Mars Institute/Pascal Lee).
The location of the pits is the northeastern floor of Philolaus Crater, a large, 43 mile (70 km)-diameter impact crater located at 72.1oN, 32.4oW, about 340 miles (550 km) from the North Pole of the Moon, on the lunar near side.
“The highest resolution images available for Philolaus Crater do not allow the pits to be identified as lava tube skylights with 100 percent certainty, but we are looking at good candidates considering simultaneously their size, shape, lighting conditions and geologic setting” says Pascal Lee, planetary scientist at the SETI Institute and the Mars Institute who made the new finding at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley.
Earlier more than Prior to this discovery, over 200 pits had been found on the Moon by other researchers, with many identified as likely skylights leading to underground lava tubes associated with similar sinuous rilles.
Most recent discovery was made in the Moon ‘s polar regions.
“Our next step should be further exploration, to verify whether these pits are truly lava tube skylights, and if they are, whether the lava tubes actually contain ice. This is an exciting possibility that a new generation of caving astronauts or robotic spelunkers could help address” says Lee.
“Exploring lava tubes on the Moon will also prepare us for the exploration of lava tubes on Mars. There, we will face the prospect of expanding our search for life into the deeper underground of Mars where we might find environments that are warmer, wetter, and more sheltered than at the surface.”