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Scientists discover 200 ‘Goldilocks’ zones on the moon where astronauts could survive

The moon's Tranquillitatis pit

The moon’s Tranquillitatis pit(Image credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University)

Lunar scientists think they’ve found the latest places on the Moon, and also some 200 Goldilocks zones which are always close to the conditions in SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA.

The moon has wild temperature fluctuations, with elements of the moon warming up to 260 degrees Fahrenheit (127 degrees Celsius) throughout the day and dropping to minus 280 F (minus 173 C) during the night. However the newly analyzed 200 shaded lunar pits are always always 63 F (17 C), meaning they’re ideal for humans to shelter from the extreme temperatures. They might also shield astronauts from the dangers of the solar wind, micrometeorites and cosmic rays. Some of these pits can lead to similarly warm caves.

These partially-shaded pits and dark caves could possibly be perfect for a lunar base, scientists say.

“Surviving the lunar night is incredibly difficult since it requires a large amount of energy, but being in these pits and caves almost entirely removes that requirement,” Tyler Horvath, a doctoral student in planetary science at the University of California, LA and lead author on the NASA-funded research published online July 8 in the journal Geophysical Research Letters (opens in new tab), told Live Science.

Related: Just how many space rocks hit the moon each year?

NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera's images of the Tranquillitatis pit with different lighting

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera’s images of the Tranquillitatis pit with different lighting (Image credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University)

It is a revelation that is over ten years in the making. The initial pit on the lunar surface was discovered in 2009 by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA) Kaguya (formerly SELENE, for SELenological and ENgineering Explorer) orbiter. However, this new work has been done utilizing a thermal camera, the Diviner Lunar Radiometer Experiment, on NASA’s robotic Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO).

Of the 200 pits discovered, 2-3 have overhangs that result in a cave, while 16 look like “‘skylights”‘ to collapsed lava tubes. On Earth, lava tubes are hollow caves found near to the surface in volcanic regions especially Kazumura Cave in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and La Cueva del Viento on Tenerife in the Canary Islands.

“Because the lava flowed, the very best of it solidified as the lava continued to flow beneath it, occasionally the lava actually evacuates completely and leaves a lava tube,” Horvath said. In case a lava tube collapses, a pit is established that acts as a “skylight” to an extended cavity.

That same process happened vast amounts of years back when massive volcanic events on the moon created the famously dark lava fields on the lunar surface called “maria,” that is Latin for seas.

“These pits likely formed because of small impacts punching a hole in to the lava tube’s ceiling or seismic activity weakening the ceiling,” Horvath said.

In the brand new study, researchers analyzed the temperatures inside a cylindrical pit about 328 feet (100 meters) deep in the Mare Tranquillitatis the ocean of Tranquility close to the moon’s equator. The team’s findings revealed that as the pit’s floor is illuminated at lunar noon, it’s most likely the hottest put on the complete surface of our natural satellite, at around 300 F (149 C); meanwhile, temperatures within the permanently shadowed reaches of the pit fluctuate only slightly from Earthlike hoodie temperatures.

The pit is relatively near where two of NASA’s Apollo missions landed. “The Tranquillitatis pit is in fact exactly the same distance from the Apollo 11 and Apollo 17 landing sites, about 375 kilometers [233 miles] away,” Horvath said. “If we find yourself going there it could be incredible to start to see the bookends of the Apollo program and how well it has been preserved.”

That is clearly a possibility. The analysis was initially to greatly help inform tentative plans for a Moon Diver mission (opens in new tab) proposed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in 2020, which may have a rover descend in to the Tranquillitatis pit to explore any existing cave. “This rover can study the layers of lava flows in the pit walls which have been imaged by LRO, helping us better understand the moon’s earlier history and evolution,” Horvath said. “There’s not just a good deal left to review about these pits from orbit, but there’s a lot of opportunity if we head to one directly.”

Apollo 11’s “Tranquility Base” could yet get yourself a subterranean sequel.

Originally published on Live Science.

Jamie Carter is really a freelance journalist and regular Live Science contributor located in Cardiff, U.K. He could be the writer of A Stargazing Program FOR NOVICES and lectures on astronomy and the natural world. Jamie regularly writes for Space.com, TechRadar.com, Forbes Science, BBC Wildlife magazine and Scientific American, and many more. He edits WhenIsTheNextEclipse.com.

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