GRAIL Data Points To Possible Lava Tubes On The Moon

Map showing variations in the lunar gravity field, as measured by NASA's Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) . Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MIT/GSFC

For years, scientists have been hunting for the stable lava tubes that are believed to exist on the Moon. A remnant from the Moon’s past, when it was still volcanically active, these underground channels could very well be an ideal location for lunar colonies someday. Not only would their thick roofs provide naturally shielding from solar radiation, meteoric impacts, and extremes in temperature. They could also be pressurized to create a breathable environment.But until now, evidence of their existence has been inferred from surface features such as sinuous rilles – channel-like depressions that run along the surface that indicate the presence of subterranean lava flows – and holes in the surface (aka. “skylights”). However, recent evidence presented at the 47th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC) in Texas indicates that one such stable lava tube could exist in the once-active region known as Marius Hills.

The presentation was led by Rohan Sood, a graduate research assistant from the department of Aeronautics and Astronautics at Purdue University in Indiana. For some time now, Sood and his research colleagues have been examining data obtained from NASA’s twin Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission in order to get a better sense of what the Moon’s interior looks like.

Launched in 2011, the purpose of the GRAIL mission – which consists of two orbiters, Ebb and Flow, working in tandem – was to map the Moon’s gravity with extreme precision. Over time, the information it gathered has provided scientists with the opportunity to gain a better understanding of the Moon’s subsurface features, particularly the buried lava tubes that are believed to exist.

In 2009, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA) Kaguya spacecraft (aka. Selene) confirmed the presence of a skylight in the Marius Hills region, which has since come to be known —> Read More