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Scientists want astronauts to live in a lava tube on the Moon

Published Oct 18th, 2017 9:01PM EDT

A human settlement on the Moon — or at least some kind of lunar base that astronauts can hang out in — is a romantic idea that sci-fi movies and video games have made us think is as simple as getting some supplies up there and whipping out a hammer. Unfortunately, it’s a lot more complicated than that, and the idea of any kind of shelter on the Moon’s surface requires tackling some very difficult problems, such as incredible temperature swings and of course radiation from space.

Now, researchers from the Japanese space agency JAXA have proposed a possible solution: Using the naturally-occurring hollow lava tubes on the lunar surface as makeshift shelters. After some intense searching, a possible location was spotted on an area of the Moon known as Marius Hills. The research was published in Geophysical Research Letters.

Lava tubes form when the outer part of a flowing stream of lava cools into a hard, rocky layer. In the event that the lava flow is cut off the lava can drain from the tube, leaving a cylindrical rock formation behind.

While that might not sound like a very suitable location for a base, it’s important to realize that these tubes can be absolutely massive in size, measuring hundreds of meters wide and stretching for a mile or more. With a thick shell covering it, a human settlement on the Moon could avoid the bulk of radiation bombarding the surface while being shielded from minor impacts from small meteorites. A covered location could also provide more stable temperatures rather than the dramatic spikes and dips experienced on the surface.

There are no firm plans to even begin planning a lunar habitat at this time, but the prospect is something many researchers and even NASA scientists often bring up. The next decade or so could be an exciting time for moon lovers.