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Moon Science

Caves of the Moon 172

Posted by Soulskill
from the and-the-horrors-that-lurk-within dept.
jeno passes along this excerpt from New Scientist: "A deep hole on the moon that could open into a vast underground tunnel has been found for the first time. The discovery strengthens evidence for subsurface, lava-carved channels that could shield future human colonists from space radiation and other hazards. ... The hole measures 65 meters across, and based on images taken at a variety of sun angles, the hole is thought to extend down at least 80 meters. It sits in the middle of a rille, suggesting the hole leads into a lava tube as wide as 370 meters across."
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Caves of the Moon

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  • Beware (Score:2, Funny)

    by ari_j (90255)
    Beware the mole people!
    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 24, 2009 @10:35AM (#29856557)

      3.5 billion years into existence and we've finally hit the first plot point.

    • More reminiscent of Empire Strikes Back to me. Quite a few things were living on that asteroid.
    • I'm not saying I'm old enough to remember, but wasn't there a Mole Men of the Moon enemy our slightly gay, tight wearing, dual-life-leading, Krytonian Ersatz Messiah had to fight?

      (Batman rules!)

    • that would be Selenites.
      Named after the ancient greek goddess of the moon, Selene.
      This name has been used for the inhabitants of the moon for more than a century.

      Just thought I'd let you know. :)
      • by ari_j (90255)
        That would be more of a correction if it actually disputed anything that I said. But it is indeed good information for anyone who doesn't already know the various names the moon has had.
      • by eleuthero (812560)
        Let's not forget "lunarian" as used in many science fiction novels. Wikipedia has a great set extending it back to Lucian's True History. Selenite stems from Greek while Lunarian stems from Latin.
    • Mapping Lunar Caves (Score:4, Interesting)

      by sanman2 (928866) on Saturday October 24, 2009 @02:45PM (#29858515)
      Seriously though - I wonder what would be the best kind of sensors/instrumentation to map underground caves and tunnels on the Moon from orbit? Isn't there supposed to be something called "cavern sensing radar" or "ground penetrating radar" that can do this stuff? If so, then how come it hasn't been done yet? Surely we're not just going to rely on finding these choice living locations by just luckily spotting some hole in the ground?

      If Man is going to return to the Moon and make a permanent base there, then it might as well be done in a cave, which is much more naturally sheltered from harmful cosmic rays and meteors, as compared to living in some inflatable habitat on the surface. Heck, that's why our cavemen ancestors liked caves to begin with - because they were uniquely sheltering environments. Shouldn't there be some kind of effort to map out the lunar underground to reveal where the best locations might be? As they say in real estate - it's location, location, location!

      • by mbone (558574) on Saturday October 24, 2009 @03:28PM (#29858841)

        Very low frequency radar could do this, such as the SHARAD [nasa.gov] radar used to map the subsurface water ice on Mars [geology.com].

        This will not be as easy as it might seem - SHARAD uses 15-25 MHz radar, or wavelengths from 1-3 meters. A 10 meter diameter tunnel (a fairly large lava tube) would only be a few wavelengths across, and thus would be hard to see.

        Apollo 17 orbited a 60 meter wavelength radar system [harvard.edu], but I don't think that this had either the surface coverage or the resolution to realistically see lava tubes.

        With this finding, I expect some nation will find the money to orbit a suitable radar around the moon to hunt for more tubes.

        • by mbone (558574)

          SHARAD uses 15-25 MHz radar, or wavelengths from 10 - 20 meters.

          Sorry for the mathematical typo. It doesn't change the conclusion, though. You have to use longish wavelengths as generally a radio wave won't penetrate more than a few dozen wavelengths into a planetary surface.

          Also, in some ways the Moon is great for low orbiting satellites - these can have quite low orbits (it's a vacuum). Thanks to the "mascons" under the Mare the gravity field is non-spherical enough, however, that objects in low orbits ty

        • by StikyPad (445176)

          15-20MHz RF translates into 12-20 meters. At least that's what Google tells me when I divide c by 25MHz and 15MHz respectively, which corresponds well with the 15 meters of vertical resolution referenced in the SHARAD article you linked. Also according to the SHARAD article, "Subsurface features will have to be of the order of [15m] for them to be observable." It doesn't say anything about multiple orders. And 10m might be large on earth, but the moon-cave article, and even the summary, state that this

          • by mbone (558574)

            You indeed caught my factor of 10 math error. And, I think that SHARAD would have the ability to detect a 370 m lava tube.

            Note that SHARAD is part of MRO, in orbit around Mars, not Titan. It can penetrate (Mars) up to 1 km at 15 MHz, which should be deep enough.

            I suspect the Italian group that created MARSIS and SHARAD is now trying to figure how to fly a lunar instrument.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by mpe (36238)
        Seriously though - I wonder what would be the best kind of sensors/instrumentation to map underground caves and tunnels on the Moon from orbit? Isn't there supposed to be something called "cavern sensing radar" or "ground penetrating radar" that can do this stuff?

        Such radar typically used on Earth tends to be in contact with the ground. So you'd need to land a vehicle. Also IIRC it is difficult to get a stable Lunar orbit, due to both the Earth being nearby and the Moon not being of uniform density.
        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by JDeane (1402533)

          "Also IIRC it is difficult to get a stable Lunar orbit, due to both the Earth being nearby and the Moon not being of uniform density."

          So there could potentially be huge caverns on the moon? enough to make a difference in the amount of gravity? Now that sounds like a reason to go back to the moon!!! I am sure they will not be as interesting as caves here on earth (or they could be cooler in a different way I guess)

          I am excited about the Moon again now :) hmmmm who's going next? I heard something about a Chin

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by sillybilly (668960)
        Even if there is no lunar underground cave system, we could always dig one if the need arises. Moon mining could be done subsurface, to save the unmanned underground vehicle / remote controlled robots from temperature fluctuations and space radiation exposure. People and plants and animals are unlikely to ever live on the moon, other than as a work outpost, because there is not enough gravity for healthy functioning for highly extended periods such as over a few decades. Unless you construct a space station
  • by Rip Dick (1207150) on Saturday October 24, 2009 @10:25AM (#29856489)
    The moon is a harsh mistress...
    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Hurricane78 (562437)

      And I thought, the moon would just Goatse us. ^^

    • TOTALLY what I was thinking. Next think you know, the Looneys will be chunking rocks at Cheyenne Mountain...
      • by rossdee (243626)

        The second catapult was 'underground save for ejection and that just a hole in the ground ' (or something like that,

  • So if we pump a bunch of air into it and wear wings can we fly around?

    Sorry I didn't read the story just can't resist the reference.

    • by mpe (36238)
      So if we pump a bunch of air into it and wear wings can we fly around?

      IIRC quite a few authors have suggested that this could be an olympic sport should there be large scale Lunar settlement.
  • Moon worms make, more sense. Everyone knows that earth worms survived the moons separation from earth. Like any good sci fi the worms mutated, and are now giant moon worms!
    • by JWSmythe (446288)

      I thought the mutation would be a given, due to the radiation specifically mentioned in the article. :) I'll assume the ejection of the earth debris, now known as "The Moon" had something resembling an atmosphere, water, and gravity at least for a period while the worms adapted to their new environment. :)

      Cryptozoology meets xenobiology! Wheee!

      Cryptoxenozoology? Time to doctor up a new Wikipedia page for a new study. I have a terrible urge to make up a fully

  • by Anonymous Coward

    "It sits in the middle of a rille, suggesting the hole leads into a lava tube as wide as 370 meters across."

    This is really cool, but the main problem with living in lava tubes is...

    LAVA.

    • by Locke2005 (849178) on Saturday October 24, 2009 @11:13AM (#29856769)
      Given the moon's lesser gravity, you should be able to jump right over the lava. That's right folks, this going to be one great big real-life Mario Brothers game!
    •   Given the moon's age and general geological stability, it's not likely any of these lava tubes are still active.

        In any case, it'd be easy enough to land a small unmanned spacecraft there with seismometers and other sensors and determine whether or not the area in question is still active.

      SB

  • Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress warmly recommended to spark your imagination.

    • by WED Fan (911325)
      I prefer "Rocketship Galileo". Any geek hobbyist can build a rocket, take a Browning, and fight Nazi's on the moon.
  • Just one question... (Score:1, Interesting)

    by smitty777 (1612557)

    ...if the moonquake/gravitiational earth pull/meteors broke a hole in the tube, couldn't the same thing happen over the heads of the moon cave-men?

    • by Plekto (1018050)

      ...if the moon-quake/gravitational earth pull/meteors broke a hole in the tube, couldn't the same thing happen over the heads of the moon cave-men?

      Possibly, but it would be simple enough to reinforce the ceiling like they do in tunneling projects. There probably would also be a dome or structure over the top in case even that failed and sprung a leak.

      • by Dorsai65 (804760)
        Why complicate it that much? Just have a bunch of lightweight balls of sealant that get sucked into any cracks, burst, and plug the leak.
    • Obviously (Score:4, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 24, 2009 @11:25AM (#29856855)

      The moon isn't like a truck - it's a series of tubes.

    • by KDR_11k (778916) on Saturday October 24, 2009 @11:39AM (#29856979)

      Sure but the same could happen to your home. Events of that type are pretty rare and hell, if something can smash through solid rock it'll probably smash through the ceiling of your surface moonbase too.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by BeardedChimp (1416531)
        Not really, our atmosphere prevents any smallish rocks from hitting us (and a lot of them do hit the atmosphere just watch a meteor shower). The moon has no such convenience as seen by looking at its continuous craters.
        • by Impeesa (763920)
          He means your home on the moon, i.e. the cave still offers more protection.
      • by mpe (36238)
        Events of that type are pretty rare and hell, if something can smash through solid rock it'll probably smash through the ceiling of your surface moonbase too.

        A lot of things which are going to be an issue with a surface structure are not going to make it through several metres of solid rock though. Also using a cave may well mean that you can get your base to a state where you don't need its builders to be wearing moonsuits in less time. Even a better design than the A7L is likely to be heavy and restrict
    • by mbone (558574) on Saturday October 24, 2009 @03:05PM (#29858679)

      This lava flow comes from the late heavy bombardment [wikipedia.org] and so the lava tube is well over 3 billion years old. Yes, the roof might fall in, but (given that there is no erosion, and no ground water dissolving the rocks) if it hasn't collapsed in 3+ billion years, the odds are in your favor.

      Now, that doesn't mean that these tubes are necessarily stable, and you would certainly want to be cautious on the first visit, and provide a roof to protect against cave-ins caused by human activity, but many of the lava tubes on Earth are quite stable, and similar tubes on the Moon would be great places to set up shop.

  • lava my foot. verne was right. it's the selenites!
  • by Nerdfest (867930) on Saturday October 24, 2009 @10:44AM (#29856605)
    That's no moon! It's a space station.

    That hole is probably where it fires its main weapon from.
    • by moxley (895517)

      You could be right....I have a plan though....

      We just need to aim some of those super sensitive long range microphones at the cave.......

      The second we hear any mention of "Clearing bay 327" or "opening a magnetic shield" we run....

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Dorsai65 (804760)
      Negative. It's an unguarded, exposed vent to the central reactor.
    • Damn, now we find WMD on the moon, and Bush is already out of office.
      Imagine how much money NASA could have been given now!

      • by Mishotaki (957104)
        Well like the Bush administration, Nasa attacked the moon BEFORE having any proof of WMD...
    • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

      by internic (453511)
      I doubt that, but it's quite possible that that cavern is not entirely stable. ;-)
  • Obviously... (Score:5, Informative)

    by sabernet (751826) on Saturday October 24, 2009 @10:48AM (#29856635) Homepage
    This is R. Daneel Olivaw's hideout
  • by Anonymous Coward

    A similar hole was discovered on Uranus...

  • I propose we send commander Boston Low, Dr. Ludger Brink and Maggie Robbins to investigate this.
  • Now that we've discovered our soon to be lizard overlord's base entrance, what are they going to do about it? I for one welcome our new overlords.
  • I call dibs on the prayer fans. 10% of sales and discoveries from prayer fans goes to me, the rest you keep.

  • In "Explorers on the Moon" he mentions ice (recently discovered) and caves. Now if we build that atomic rocket (NERVA or Orion), we could send a V2 like rocket on the moon with 8 people aboard, a dog, a tank (more impressive to selenites than a buggy) and let them stay for some weeks at first.
  • So they finally found out where Osama has been hiding....

    A cave on the moon!!! That bastard probably runs around calling it a "Death Star"

    Sorry its early in the morning for me and I am a bit loopy :)

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mpe (36238)
      So they finally found out where Osama has been hiding....
      A cave on the moon!!! That bastard probably runs around calling it a "Death Star"


      Well that's one way to get a bigger budget for manned space exploration :)
  • for storing cheese.

  • ...and I really don't appreciate the voyeurs peeping in from 240 k miles out. I moved here for a reason, you insensitive clods!
  • So then, now we know (Score:4, Interesting)

    by countertrolling (1585477) on Saturday October 24, 2009 @11:31AM (#29856911) Journal

    The moon is made out of Swiss cheese...

  • by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Saturday October 24, 2009 @11:39AM (#29856971) Homepage Journal

    Sorry I can't find a better link, but you don't really need a lava tube for settlement [inhabitat.com], it just makes it cheaper and easier. You're still going to need an inflatable habitat or similar (honestly, what else makes sense?) to sit in the tube.

    • Bigelow is supposedly working on digging to bury his BA-330s. I wonder if he has considered a way to get something like even the sundancer down there. In addition, unless this is at the pole, it will mean that nuclear power will be required (or an incredible amount of energy storage). TO be honest, I would think that having a small nuclear reactor would be great so that temps would be easy to maintain.
      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        There's basically no down side to nuclear on the moon because there's little to no seismic activity and no water seepage. Consequently, even an open pit of nuclear waste is only a problem if something hits it, so you can just dig a shaft and dump it in. On the other hand, I'd rather just see solar used, since it doesn't require refueling or indeed anything like management.

    • by mpe (36238) on Saturday October 24, 2009 @03:48PM (#29858993)
      Sorry I can't find a better link, but you don't really need a lava tube for settlement, it just makes it cheaper and easier. You're still going to need an inflatable habitat

      The obvious problem with an inflatable habitat is that anything the size of dust is going to make at least one hole in it. Patching is likely to take up quite a bit of someone's time.

      or similar (honestly, what else makes sense?) to sit in the tube.

      Install two bulkheads some distance apart and pressurize the space in between to 75 kPa.
      • by CrimsonAvenger (580665) on Saturday October 24, 2009 @06:58PM (#29860519)

        The obvious problem with an inflatable habitat is that anything the size of dust is going to make at least one hole in it.

        This isn't a kid's balloon. As I recall, the skin is about six inches thick, and made of kevlar.

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        The obvious problem with an inflatable habitat is that anything the size of dust is going to make at least one hole in it. Patching is likely to take up quite a bit of someone's time.

        No, it goes in the tube, whether natural or constructed. The tube protects it from impacts.

        Install two bulkheads some distance apart and pressurize the space in between to 75 kPa.

        Can't trust the tube. Don't have to worry about volcanism or drift or anything, but there's still other issues like thermal contraction or micrometeorite impact... for which you have the tube as backup. Bigelow's habitats can take quite a bit of abuse. I think that the environment calls for a hybrid approach, though I have been wrong before.

      • by joh (27088)

        Install two bulkheads some distance apart and pressurize the space in between to 75 kPa.

        Bulkheads 370 meters across won't be easy. But if you could do it, you could build some serious city in there. Including a copy of the Empire State Building.

    • Assume that there are more tubes up there (and most likely there are). These are perfect for starts of mines. That means that commercial space has a place to go. Basically, this is an opportunity to lower the costs to future exploration that I suspect that Bigelow and other billionares will take advantage of. Combine that with a hotel, and I think that Bigelow, musk and others will be all over it.
  • "Since the tubes may be hundreds of metres wide, they could provide plenty of space for an underground lunar outpost. The tubes' ceilings could protect astronauts from space radiation, meteoroid impacts and wild temperature fluctuations" ...and provide nourishment for the settlers by way of lashings and lashings of blue string soup.

  • Chewy... (Score:2, Funny)

    by Annorax (242484)

    ... I've got a bad feeling about this.

  • This all begs the question, when are we going to send a moon rover to study it more depth?

  • I call dibs on Sr. Fleet Captain!
  • Ice (Score:5, Informative)

    by mbone (558574) on Saturday October 24, 2009 @01:21PM (#29857753)

    These are almost certainly "sinkholes" into lava tubes, where lava runs out the center of a partially frozen lava flow. (Apollo 15 showed pretty clearly that at least the Hadley Rill was a collapsed lava tube.) There are lava tubes you can visit on the big island of Hawaii [bigisland.org].

    The interesting thing to me about this is that the interior of these tubes, being far from the Sun and in a vacuum, might easily contain an appreciable amount of water ice, for the same reason that the lunar poles might, but with a much more convenient distribution across the Moon's surface.

    Besides, wouldn't it be cool to explore these 3 billion year old caves?

    • by Cyner (267154)

      Besides, wouldn't it be cool to explore these 3 billion year old caves?

      Heck yeah! And it would be a lot easier to explore than the that red planet we've been mucking around on. Not to mention the moon would make a really nice launching pad for further solar system exploration.

  • So easy ... (Score:3, Funny)

    by NotBornYesterday (1093817) * on Saturday October 24, 2009 @02:13PM (#29858235) Journal
    a moon-caveman could do it?
  • ... there might be metroids inside.

  • Most cities have Grottos - chapters of the National Speleological Society (I'm in the Boston Grotto which, predictably enough, is in Boston. Others have less predictable names). I wonder if the NSS will ever establish a Grotto on the moon? --Dave
  • In "Explorers on the Moon" (released in 1954), Tintin and Snowy start to explore a cave and fall in a huge cavern whose floor is totally covered by smooth, sloping ice. Funny how his idea was spot-on.

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