Newly Discovered Moon Tunnel Could be Perfect Place for Colony

The 'supermoon' over Heho, in Myanmar's Shan state. (AFP / Ye Aung Thu)
The 'supermoon' over Heho, in Myanmar's Shan state. (AFP / Ye Aung Thu)
TT

Newly Discovered Moon Tunnel Could be Perfect Place for Colony

The 'supermoon' over Heho, in Myanmar's Shan state. (AFP / Ye Aung Thu)
The 'supermoon' over Heho, in Myanmar's Shan state. (AFP / Ye Aung Thu)

At the close of the Apollo age, a year before the final moonwalk in 1972, a NASA researcher argued that vast tunnels lie beneath the lunar surface.

There was good reason to think so. Lava from ancient volcanoes might have bored miles-long voids beneath the moon's surface, just as volcanoes formed the Kaumana lava tubes in Hawaii.

What a sight a lunar lava cave would be. Protected from meteors and radiation that bombards the surface, the tunnels might preserve evidence from the moon’s early history and clues to its mysterious origins. And many scientists have long dreamed of building bases inside natural moon caves, where lunar explorers might sleep safely in inflatable homes, protected from the storms above.

But the lava tunnels of the moon, like the mythical canals of Mars, proved elusive.

NASA’s Ronald Greeley hypothesized in 1971 that one of the great channels in the moon’s Marius Hills region might in fact be a collapsed tunnel. But he admitted that no mission had yet photographed a lunar cave entrance — and some doubted they even existed.

Half a century after Greeley’s paper was published and NASA left the moon behind, in a paper published this week, Japanese researchers say they've found proof of the tunnels no one could see.

Japan calls its Kaguya orbiter the “largest lunar mission since the Apollo program.” It was launched in 2007 with state-of-the-art instruments, deployable satellites and a mission to solve the great mysteries of the moon’s origin.

In 2009,Kaguya drifted 60 miles above the Marius Hills and took a picture of a large, deep hole.

Holes aren’t unusual on the moon’s pockmarked surface, but a NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter managed to get a follow-up shot, closer to the ground, as a team of Japanese and American researchers recounted in Geophysical Research Letters last week.

“The floor of the hole extended at least several meters eastward and westward under a ceiling of two other holes,” the researchers wrote — like the mouth of a tunnel.

But the murky picture revealed no more. Did the cave go on for miles, like the hypothetical lava tube, or dead-end just out of sight?

It took years to find out. The Japanese got another assist from the United States in 2011, when NASA put twin spacecraft — Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory, or GRAIL — in orbit around the moon.

GRAIL measured tiny fluctuations in the moon’s gravity to map out mountains and subterranean features. When it flew over the Marius Hills, the researchers wrote, it detected something long and hollow beneath the surface  — extending more than 30 miles from the hole Kaguya found.

So Kaguya swung back into action. The Japanese probe blasted radar waves down onto the suspected tunnel, listening for anomalies in the echoes that came back from underground.

Over and over, Kaguya heard a distinctive pattern of echoes. The researchers think it is either the floor or ceiling of a cave — the long-hoped-for lava tunnel.

If the researchers are correct, it sounds just like what the old Apollo scientists and would-be colonists were looking for.

“Their existence has not been confirmed until now,” Junichi Haruyama, one of the paper’s authors, told Agence France-Presse. And now that he knows the tunnel exists, he said, he looks forward to finding out what’s inside.

The Washington Post



Greece Battles Wildfires Fanned by Gale Force Winds

A plane drops water during a wildfire, in Kitsi, near the town of Koropi, Greece, June 19, 2024. (Reuters)
A plane drops water during a wildfire, in Kitsi, near the town of Koropi, Greece, June 19, 2024. (Reuters)
TT

Greece Battles Wildfires Fanned by Gale Force Winds

A plane drops water during a wildfire, in Kitsi, near the town of Koropi, Greece, June 19, 2024. (Reuters)
A plane drops water during a wildfire, in Kitsi, near the town of Koropi, Greece, June 19, 2024. (Reuters)

Hundreds of firefighters struggled on Saturday to contain wildfires fanned by gale force winds on two Greek islands and in other parts of Greece, as authorities warned many regions face a high risk of new blazes.

More than 30 firefighters backed by two aircraft and five helicopters were battling a wildfire burning οn the island of Andros in the Aegean, away from tourist resorts, where four communities were evacuated as a precaution.

"More firefighters (are) expected on the island later in the day," a fire services official told Reuters, adding there were no reports of damage or injuries.

Wildfires are common in Greece, but they have become more devastating in recent years amid hotter and drier summers that scientists link to climate change. A wildfire near Athens last week forced dozens to flee their homes, which authorities said they believed was the result of arson as well as the hot, dry conditions.

Meteorologists say the latest fires are the first time that the country has experienced "hot-dry-windy" conditions so early in the summer.

"I can't remember another year facing such conditions so early, in early and mid-June," meteorologist Thodoris Giannaros told state TV.

On Friday, a 55-year-old man died in hospital after being injured in a blaze in the region of Ilia on Greece's Peloponnese peninsula, as several fires burned on Greece's southern tip.

Several hundred firefighters have been deployed to battle more than 70 forest fires across the country since Friday. High winds and hot temperatures will extend the risk into Sunday, the fire service said.

Earlier on Saturday, firefighters tamed a forest fire on the island of Salamina, in the Saronic Gulf west of Athens, and another about 30 kilometers east of the capital.

After forest fires last year forced 19,000 people to flee the island of Rhodes and killed 20 in the northern mainland, Greece has scaled up its preparations this year by hiring more staff and stepping up training.