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Moon’s lava tubes could be colossal

Caverns might make spacious home for moon colonists

9:00am, December 15, 2016
Lava tube

INNER TUBE  Lava tubes inside the moon could remain structurally stable up to several kilometers across, new research suggests. Similar tubes that crisscross the ground around Hawaiian volcanoes, shown, only reach a few meters across.

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Slight variations in the moon’s gravitational tug have hinted that kilometers-wide caverns lurk beneath the lunar surface. Like the lava tubes of Hawaii and Iceland, these structures probably formed when underground rivers of molten rock ran dry, leaving behind a cylindrical channel. On Earth, such structures max out at around 30 meters across, but the gravitational data suggest that the moon’s tubes are vastly wider.

Assessing the sturdiness of lava tubes under lunar gravity, planetary geophysicist Dave Blair of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., and colleagues estimate that the caves could remain structurally sound up to 5 kilometers across. That’s wide enough to fit the Golden Gate Bridge, Brooklyn Bridge and London Bridge end to end.

Such colossal caves will be prime real estate for lunar pioneers, the researchers report in the Jan. 15 Icarus. Lava tubes could offer protection from the extreme temperatures, harsh radiation and meteorite impacts on the surface.


D.M. Blair et al. The structural stability of lunar lava tubes. Icarus. Vol. 282, January 15, 2017, p. 47. doi: 10.1016/j.icarus.2016.10.008.

Further Reading

C. Crockett. Long-running lunar mission reveals moon’s surprises. Science News. Vol. 189, June 11, 2016, p. 10.

T. Sumner. Chinese rover reveals moon’s layers. Science News. Vol. 187, April 18, 2015, p. 17.

S. Perkins. Deep hole spotted on moon. Science News Online, November 20, 2009.

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