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Life on Mars: Lava tubes could be key to Mars colony – 'Extraordinary for settlement'

The surface of Mars may be too inhospitable for colonisers, with frequent sandstorms and no protection from space radiation. Scientists are, therefore, interested in the possibility of subterranean life, exploring ways in which colonisers could set up camp in ancient lava tubes. Researchers at the University in Bologna, Italy, have now presented new findings with exciting implications for future colonisation efforts.

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Lava tubes, or pyroducts, are natural tunnels formed underground by lava flowing from a volcanic source.

They are the third most common type of cave found on Earth and can run uninterrupted for tens of miles.

One of the longest known pyroduct on Earth is the 41-mile-long (65.5km) Kazumura Cave in Hawaii.

But the lava tubes are not unique to Earth and scientists have found evidence of them on the Moon as well as on Mars.

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Life on Mars: Scientists want to explore lava tubes on Mars for possible colonisation (Image: GETTY)

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And the conditions within are perfect to shield potential colonists from radiation, space rocks and wild temperature fluctuations.

Study coordinator Francesco Sauro said: “Lava tubes could provide stable shields from cosmic and solar radiation and micrometeorite impacts which are often happening on the surfaces of planetary bodies.

“Moreover, they have great potential for providing an environment in which temperatures do not vary from day- to night-time.

“Space agencies are now interested in planetary caves and lava tubes, as they represent a first step towards future explorations of the lunar surface – see also NASA’s project Artemis – and towards finding life – past or present – in Mars subsurface”.

Space agencies are now interested in planetary caves and lava tubes

Francesco Sauro, University in Bologna

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Researchers at Bologna and the University of Padua have also proposed the tubes on Mars can be many times bigger than on Earth.

Whereas a typical lava tube on Earth measures between 32ft and 98ft (10m and 30m) across, a Martian tube could be 100 or 1,000 times wider.

Dr Sauro said: “We can find lava tubes on planet Earth, but also on the subsurface of the Moon and Mars according to the high-resolution pictures of lava tubes’ skylights taken by interplanetary probes.

“Evidence of lava tubes was often inferred by observing linear cavities and sinuous collapse chains where the galleries cracked.

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“These collapse chains represent ideal gateways or windows for subsurface exploration.

“The morphological surface expression of lava tubes on Mars and the Moon is similar to their terrestrial counterpart.

“Speleologists thoroughly studied lava tubes on Earth in Hawaii, Canary Islands, Australia and Iceland

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The researchers have explained the wider tubes through Mars’ weaker gravity and the effect it has on volcanism.

Life on Mars: The lava tubes on Mars are likely much bigger than on Earth (Image: ESA / Luca Ricci)

Life on Mars: The surface of Mars is lashed by radiation and meteorites (Image: GETTY)

Similarly, lava tubes on the Moon provide an exciting opportunity for explorers to consider.

Planetary geologist Riccardo Pozzobon said: “Tubes as wide as these can be longer than 40 kilometres, making the Moon an extraordinary target for subsurface exploration and potential settlement in the wide protected and stable environments of lava tubes.

“The latter are so big they can contain Padua’s entire city centre.”

According to Matteo Massironi, a professor of Structural and Planetary Geology at Padua, the lava tubes are incredibly stable because of the weaker gravity.

He said: “This means that the majority of lava tubes underneath the maria smooth plains are intact.

“The collapse chains we observed might have been caused by asteroids piercing the tube walls.

“This is what the collapse chains in Marius Hills seem to suggest.

“From the latter, we can get access to these huge underground cavities.”

Source Daily Express :: Science Feed

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