Scientists are already racing to design suitable shelters for the first explorers of Mars. However, a new study has revealed the Red Planet could already provide ready-made settlements for the pioneers.
Following a survey of 1,500 photos shot by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), space experts believe they have discovered lava tubes could potentially provide an easy solution for astronaut accommodation.
This would provide the crew protection from not only exposure to too much radiation, but also the bombardment of micrometeorites
An area, known as Hellas Planitia in the Martian southern hemisphere, is sprouting with volcanic formations.
These formations could be used to protect astronauts from radiation.
Because the Red Planet’s atmosphere is paper-thin and its magnetic field is very weak, space radiation on Mars is a much bigger problem than it is on Earth.
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Scientist have calculated exposure to radiation may fall by 82 percent inside the lava pits.
The caverns could also be closed off, allowing astronauts to add technology to heat the structure and create a breathable environment inside.
Martian lava tubes are made from flowing magma and created when the channels rapidly cooled to create a strong crust over the subsurface.
The lava flow ultimately stops, drains out of the tube and leaves an empty space several feet under the surface.
Hellas Planitia, which is an impact basin in Mars’ southern hemisphere, formed approximately 4.1 billion to 3.8 billion years ago when a massive asteroid slammed into the surface.
Along the northeastern edge of Hellas is an ancient volcanic mountain, called Hadriacus Mons, which allowed for lava tubes to form around the area.
the study led by Dr Antonio Paris, chief scientist at the Center for Planetary Science, said: “The lava tubes near Hadriacus Mons, consequently, could be used as natural radiation shelters and habitats for a crewed mission to the planet.
“These natural caverns have roofs estimated to be tens of metres thick.
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“This would provide the crew protection from not only exposure to too much radiation, but also the bombardment of micrometeorites, exposure to dangerous soil perchlorates due to long-term dust storms, and extreme temperature fluctuations.”
A carpet of perchlorate chemicals found on Mars may also boost the chances microbial life exists on the Red Planet – but perchlorates are also perilous to the health of future crews destined to explore that way-off world.
Perchlorates are reactive chemicals first detected in arctic Martian soil by NASA’s Phoenix lander that plopped down on Mars in May 2008.
The ability to close-off the caverns would allow astronauts to add technology for producing heat and to create a breathable atmosphere.
The report added: “The results of this investigation indicate that the proposed lava tubes southwest of Hadriacus Mons can and should be utilised to serve as natural shelters for a crewed mission to the planet.”
In March, NASA released an image, originally shot in 2011, of a lava tube inside of a volcano on Mars, sitting to the side of Pavonis Mons.
The opening is approximately 115ft (35m) wide and the cavern below is around 65ft (20m) beneath the surface, which NASA scientists believe was formed by ancient channels of lava.
NASA said: “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.
“These pits are therefore prime targets for possible future spacecraft, robots, and even human interplanetary explorers.”
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