Lava tubes, underground cave-like channels through which lava once flowed, are commonly found on Earth. Scientists have debated whether these tubes could form on the Moon as well, but no studies have yet conclusively identified features that indicate the presence of lunar lava tubes.
Using images from the SELENE (also known as Kaguya) spacecraft's high-resolution cameras, Haruyama et al. have identified a vertical hole that they believe is a skylight in an intact lava tube. The hole is located in the Marius Hills region, a volcanic area on the Moon's nearside.
The authors find that the nearly circular hole is about 65 meters (213 feet) in diameter and about 80-88 m (262-289 ft) deep. They consider possible formation mechanisms and conclude that the skylight most likely formed when part of the lava tube roof collapsed. The authors believe that the discovery could have implications for studies of lunar volcanism.
In addition, because lava tubes are sheltered from the harsh environment on the Moon's surface, such tubes could one day be useful for lunar bases.
The research is published in Geophysical Research Letters.
Authors include Junichi Haruyama, Tomokatsu Morota, Yasuhiro Yokota, and Makiko Ohtake: ISAS, JAXA, Sagamihara, Japan; Kazuyuki Hioki and Seiichi Hara: NTT DATA CCS Corporation, Tokyo, Japan; Motomaro Shirao: Tokyo, Japan; Harald Hiesinger and Carolyn H. van der Bogert: Institut für Planetologie, Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität, Münster, Germany; Hideaki Miyamoto: University Museum, University of Tokyo, Tokyo, Japan; Akira Iwasaki: Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology, University of Tokyo, Tokyo, Japan; Tsuneo Matsunaga: Center for Global Environmental Research, NIES, Tsukuba, Japan; Shunsuke Nakanotani: Mitsubishi Space Software Co., Ltd., Tsukuba, Japan; and Carle M. Pieters: Department of Geological Sciences, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, USA.
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