A colony on the Moon has been a favourite of science fiction for ages. And why not? It's relatively close to Earth (howdy, neighbour!) and we've already landed there a few times to boot. Piece of cake, right?
Okay, yes, but...the Moon has that whole no-atmosphere issue. And that affects more than just having oxygen to breathe. On Earth, our atmosphere shelters us from everything from solar radiation to meteorites. Being exposed to these dangers on the Moon makes a long-term surface colony really risky to pull off. Even the strongest man-made structure can't protect against small meteorites.
But an underground tunnel? Well, that just might do the trick.
That's what some scientists are thinking. A newly discovered lunar tunnel may be just the solution that space enthusiasts have been praying for. A safe shelter where humans can realistically begin a life on a world other than their own.
This thing isn't a tiny lunar groundhog burrow, either. It's huge. Estimates suggest that it is around 91 metres (300 feet) below the surface, is several hundred metres wide, and could be 50 km (31 miles) long! Solar radiation can't penetrate that much rock, and it would be safe from scattered, small space rocks, too. And its massive size means that it could easily house a large colony in relative comfort.
Likely carved by lava
This lunar tunnel, found in a region called the Marius Hills, is a very lucky find. Scientists believe that it was likely formed by ancient underground lava flows, back when the Moon was a much more fiery place. Similar structures exist on Earth, such as the Kaumana lava tubes in Hawaii.
And how was this discovered? A Japanese satellite called Kayuga first began this quest in 2009, when it took a photo of a giant hole that looked like it could be an opening to a tunnel. But who could be sure? More research was needed.
So for the last few years, it, plus NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) and Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) have been orbiting the Moon and piecing together information. They've been taking pictures and blasting the surface with radar waves to listen for echoes — echoes that say, "Hey, I'm a tunnel down here!"
Would you like to live on the Moon?
And now, after all of this research, they feel confident that something is there. The tunnel could even contain ice or water that didn't evaporate on the Moon's surface when it lost its atmosphere millions of years ago. But the only way to know for sure is to go there.
On October 5, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence announced that the country was looking to put humans on the Moon again. He also wants to have a permanent base there. Will this be where they settle?
Would you like to live in a tunnel on the Moon?