Could lava tubes serve as human habitats on Mars and the Moon? Scientists from two Italian universities are currently investigating this possibility.
Evidence of these tubes has been seen in chains of collapsing pits and “skylights” on both our planet and its natural satellite. Now, University of Padova and University of Bologna researchers are comparing lava tubes on the Moon and Mars to each other and with the ones on Earth. They are doing so by using the high-resolution Digital Terrain Models or DTM.
Lava Tubes are Bigger Outside of Earth
“The comparison of terrestrial, lunar and Martian examples shows that, as you might expect, gravity has a big effect on the size of lava tubes,” said University of Padova researcher Riccardo Pozzobon.
The professor continues by pointing out that, here on the planet, such tubes can be some thirty meters across. In comparison, the lower gravity environment on Mars seems to have led to the appearance of 250 meters wide such formations. On the Moon, the lava tunnels can reportedly be even a kilometer or more across, and several “hundreds of kilometers in length”.
These massive caves could have a significant impact on possible human colonization, added Pozzobon. They would be big enough to hold entire towns, and being underground would shield dwellers from cosmic radiation and micrometeorites. As such they could serve as safe, ready-made human habitats.
On Earth, such tubes can be found in places with a history of volcanic activity, such as Hawaii, Iceland and parts of Australia and Italy. Because Mars and the Moon are no longer geologically active, their tubes would be safe from any seismic activity that could occur in active areas on Earth.
These tubes can develop in two ways: when low-viscosity magma flows near the surface, a tunnel with a hard, crusty “roof” could appear. Or, as lava enters existing fissures and inflates, it creates vast networks of larger caverns. Alternatively, this might possibly be better for a potential human habitation.