Lava tubes on Mars and Moon are massive; could act as shield from cosmic and solar radiation

Earth is home to several lava tubes or long volcanic caves that can be defined as “channels of rivers of lava that at some earlier time flowed downslope from a volcanic vent or fissure”.

Interestingly, the subsurface of Mars and Moon also boast some of these lava tubes. The major difference between them and that of our planet is their huge size as compared to the earthly tubes. According to a new study published in the international journal Earth-Science Reviews, the lava tubes on Mars and Moon are respectively 100 and 1,000 times wider than those on Earth.

Lava tubes channels of rivers of lava that at some earlier time flowed downslope from a volcanic vent or fissure. Image credit: NPS Photo/D. Boyle

Researchers at the Universities of Bologna and Padua studied the Martian and lunar tubes using high-resolution pictures and compared them with the lava tubes present in Hawaii, Canary Islands, Australia and Iceland.

They also analysed the subsurface cavities that the lava created underground on Mars and the Moon. They found that these cavities can act as shields against cosmic as well as solar radiations.

“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,” said Francesco Sauro, a speleologist and head of the ESA programmes CAVES and PANGAEA, who is associated with the University of Bologna. He further said in the news release that “evidence of lava tubes was often inferred by observing linear cavities and sinuous collapse chains where the galleries cracked”.

These collapse chains, he concluded, represented “ideal gateways or windows for subsurface exploration”.

Riccardo Pozzobon, a planetary geologist at the University of Padua said the study shows that the Moon can serve as a target for subsurface exploration and potential settlement due to the “protected and stable environments of lava tubes”. According to the researcher, these would suffice for a large number of people because of its huge size.