0556 GMT January 26, 2020
In a new study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, scientists confirmed the presence of a large lava tube among the Marius Hills, a series of lunar lava domes, UPI wrote.
The open lava tube could serve like a giant bunker, providing shelter from the harsh conditions on the Moon's surface.
In their study, scientists argue lava tubes offer ideal protection from extreme temperature swings, radiation and meteorite impacts.
Lava tubes form when the outer edges of a lava flow harden into crust and the remaining lava drains away, leaving an empty cylinder.
Junichi Haruyama, a senior researcher at The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), said, "It's important to know where and how big lunar lava tubes are if we're ever going to construct a lunar base.
“But knowing these things is also important for basic science. We might get new types of rock samples, heat flow data and lunar quake observation data."
Scientists have known about the Marius Hills Skylight, the opening to the newly discovered lava tube. But until now, they weren't sure what the entrance led to.
When JAXA's SELENE spacecraft bounced radar off the area, the data revealed an echo-like signature suggesting the waves were bouncing back off the floor and ceiling of a tube-like structure.
Gravity data from NASA's GRAIL mission also revealed an absence of mass beneath the surface surrounding the Marius Hills Skylight.
The combination of the two datasets helped scientists get a better idea of how deep and far the cavity stretched beneath the lunar surface.
Jay Melosh, a researcher on the GRAIL mission and a professor of planetary science at Purdue, said, "Our group at Purdue used the gravity data over that area to infer that the opening was part of a larger system.
"By using this complimentary technique of radar, they were able to figure out how deep and high the cavities are."
Earth hosts lava tubes, too, but they're not nearly as large as those found on the Moon.
Now, thanks to the latest research, scientists have a better idea of how expansive lunar lava tubes really are.
NASA is currently working with Russia's space agency, as well as other national space outfits, to design a lunar space station — a base from which to explore the lunar surface and launch deep space missions to Mars and elsewhere.