NASA reveals secret underground cavern on Mars that could house future human settlers
NASA posted the images of the volcano with an unusual tube-like hole plummeting into its inners, with the agency suggesting the hole could become a habitat for future human settlers. Originally taken in 2011 by the space agency’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), the hole is on the side of Pavonis Mons, a volcano near the martian equator.
The opening to the tube is around 11ft wide and the cavern below is thought to descend to around 65ft beneath the planet’s surface.
Although it is not known for certain how the hole was formed, NASA scientists ave suggested the ancient channels of lava are to credit for the natural structure.
Alongside the photo, NASA wrote: “Holes such as this are of particular interest because their interior caves are relatively protected from the harsh surface of Mars, making them relatively good candidates to contain Martian life.”
In the nine years elapsed since the photograph was taken, researchers have grown to the idea of using lava tunnels as locations for settlements when humans eventually reach Mars.
It is unclear when or if humans will ever reach Mars, though as the space race extends into private enterprises – for example, Elon Musk’s SpaceX – it is generally thought that in the next 20 years humans may well have taken the first steps on the fourth planet from the sun.
The discovery of the lava tunnel only speeds up NASA’s intentions of reaching the planet.
Researchers say it is intriguing from a geological perspective as it means the void is larger than most caves on Earth.
The caves on our planet that are larger than the Martian void were all formed through the process of water dissolving underground limestone.
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Whereas on Mars, the process is unlikely to occur because these substances are not found anywhere near the same quantities as on Earth.
Pavonis Mons, which stands higher than Everest at 46,000ft, is a while volcano formed by successive lava flows cooling and stacking on top of each other.
When hot lava flowed on its surface after eruptions, it would have cooled and hardened, and in some cases this may have insulated the lava below, allowing it to continue to flow, according to Newsweek.
Thus, when this lava drained away, it may have left underground “lava tube” caves.
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In 2017, research presented by a team of scientists at the European Planetary Science Congress suggested lava tube caves could hold an important role in future missions.
The team, led by Riccardo Pozzobon from the University of Padova, Italy, carried out a series of comparison between lava tube caves on Earth and candidate caves on the moon and Mars.
They presented the caves as promising places to live, and even as environments to search for signs of life on Mars.
In a press release at the time, Mr Pozzobon said: “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.
“On Earth, they can be up to 30 meters [98 feet] across. In the lower gravity environment of Mars, we see evidence for lava tubes that are 250 meters [820 feet] in width.
“On the Moon, these tunnels could be a kilometer [0.6 miles] or more across and many hundreds of kilometers in length.”
He continued: ”These results have important implications for habitability and human exploration of the moon but also for the search for extra-terrestrial life on Mars.
“Lava tubes are environments shielded from cosmic radiation and protected from micrometeorites, potentially providing safe habitats for future human missions.
“They are also, potentially, large enough for quite significant human settlements.”
While lava tubes on Earth remain fairly narrow because of the effects of gravity, Martian tubes are thought to have reached widths of more than 1,900ft without collapsing.
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