NASA Discovers Warm Pits on the Moon
They hover around 63℉, may be connected to caves, and could offer thermally stable sites for lunar exploration.
Scientists are keen to explore shaded locations within pits on the Moon, which according to computer modeling, hover around a comfortable 63℉.
Unlike most of the Moon’s surface, which can heat up to 260℉ during the day and cool to -280℉ at night, the shaded pits could serve as human homesteads in the future.
For more than a decade, NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) has measured the temperature of these topographical features, likely created by collapsed lava tubes. Now, new research suggests the pits’ thermal environment is more hospitable than anywhere else on the Moon, with temps hovering around 63℉ (17℃).
“Lunar pits are a fascinating feature on the lunar surface,” LRO Project Scientist Noah Petro of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said in a statement. “Knowing that they create a stable thermal environment helps us paint a picture of these unique lunar features and the prospect of one day exploring them.”
Lava tubes, also found on Earth, form when molten lava flows beneath a field of cooled lava or a crust forms over a river of lava, leaving a long, hollow tunnel, according to NASA. If the ceiling of a solidified lava tube collapses, it opens a pit that may lead to a hollow cave.
Two of the most prominent pits have visible overhangs that clearly lead to caves or voids, NASA revealed, highlighting “strong evidence” that a third pit also leads to a large cave. “Humans evolved living in caves, and to caves we might return when we live on the Moon,” David Paige, leader of the Diviner Lunar Radiometer Experiment aboard LRO, said.
The team—including Paige, Paul Hayne of the University of Colorado Boulder, and UCLA doctoral student Tyler Horvath—focused on a 328-foot-deep depression about the length and width of a football field in an area of the Moon known as the Mare Tranquillitatis. Using computer modeling, they analyzed the thermal properties of the rock and lunar dust, and charted the pit’s temperatures over time.
Their findings, published earlier this month(Opens in a new window) in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, revealed that temperatures within the permanently shadowed reaches of the pit—with its overhang limiting light during the day and preventing heat from radiating away at night—fluctuate only slightly throughout a lunar day (about 15 Earth days). Any connected cave, it stands to reason, would also boast a relatively comfortable temperature.
Originally published at https://www.pcmag.com.