Strange lunar pits could have temperatures comfortable enough for humans to live in

The temperature on the Moon can range from boiling to freezing depending on whether it’s night or day, but scientists think there may well be sheltered pits and caves where the temperature is perfectly reasonable, whatever be the time.

In such places, the temperature hovers around 17 degrees Celsius (63 degrees Fahrenheit), according to new calculations. They could be the perfect places to establish base camps to explore the rest of the lunar surface.

They could also offer some protection against small meteorites and even harmful solar radiation from the Sun. With a comfortable base, future lunar settlers could focus on other activities, such as growing food or conducting research.

“Humans evolved living in caves, and to caves we could return when we live on the Moon,” says planetary scientist David Paige of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

We have known about the pits on the Moon for several years. The researchers used images captured by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) – specifically its Diviner Lunar Radiometer Experiment thermal camera – to try to measure the temperature inside a pit in the Mare Tranquillitatis region. from the moon.

Using computer models to analyze the rock’s thermal properties over time, the researchers estimated that the sunlit part of the pit could retain heat to bake hotter than the surface, reaching up to 300 degrees Celsius.

Yet in the near shadows, the trapped heat could raise the otherwise freezing cold temperatures to something a bit more temperate and keep them there even after the sun goes down.

The next question is whether these overhangs have enough room for a community of explorers to huddle. Images taken from space suggest that some of them do – and this is indeed the case on Earth, where the tunnels are left behind by molten lava flowing beneath the surface. It is possible that some pits are collapsed lava tubes.

Part of the research involved aligning and stitching multiple photographs, removing inconsistencies until the team could estimate the temperatures of individual pixels in the images captured by the LRO.

“Because no one else had looked at such small things with Diviner, we found that he had a bit of double vision, which made all of our charts a little fuzzy,” says planetary scientist Tyler Horvath, also from UCLA.

Each day and night on the Moon lasts about 15 days on Earth, with temperatures varying from about 127 degrees Celsius (261 degrees Fahrenheit) during the day to about minus 173 degrees Celsius (minus 279 degrees Fahrenheit) at night.

People and equipment would need to be protected from these extremes during long-term lunar research projects, which would be quite an engineering challenge; finding a habitable cave or two would be a very handy shortcut.

NASA plans to explore the area further during the proposed Moon Diver mission, which would see a rover descend inside the Mare Tranquillitatis Trench and check out any cave networks it might be connected to.

“Lunar pits are a fascinating feature of the lunar surface,” says planetary geologist Noah Petro of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. “Knowing that they create a stable thermal environment helps us paint a picture of these unique lunar features and the prospect of exploring them one day.”

The research has been published in Geophysical Research Letters.

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