Caves on Moon found ideal for human settlements, mining next?

2022 is witnessing an unprecedented Moon rush by several nations ranging from India to the United States

By Kiran N. Kumar

The moon is a treasure trove of valuable resources but significantly, non-radioactive helium-3, which is rare on Earth, is available abundantly on the moon and could one day power nuclear fusion reactors. About 100 tons of He-3 has the potential to power the entire population of Earth for a year.

A conservative estimate puts He-3 would be worth about $40,000 per ounce. When one ton of He-3 is burnt along with 0.67 ton of deuterium, about 1,000 MW of energy can be produced to meet Earth’s power requirement throughout the year.

Read: ‘A human colony on Moon is possible in 4 to 8 years, and it would cost $1 million per person to get there’ (May 27, 2017)

Moreover, Helium-3 is highly sought after as it can fuel non-radioactive nuclear fusion reactions to produce safe, efficient, clean, and large quantities of energy, thereby transforming the future of energy generation on Earth.

No wonder, the year 2022 is witnessing an unprecedented rush to the moon by several nations ranging from Japan, South Korea, Russia, India to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the United States.

Amid the Moon rush, NASA-funded scientists have announced this week that they discovered caves within pits on the Moon that have a comfortable temperature of about 63 F (about 17 C) compared to harsh heat up to 260 F (127 C) elsewhere during the day and cool to minus 280 F (about minus 173 C) at night.

Ever since pits were first discovered on the Moon in 2009, scientists have been exploring the possibility of finding caves that could be used as shelters, which can offer some protection from cosmic rays, solar radiation and micrometeorites.

Using data from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) spacecraft, Tyler Horvath, a doctoral student in planetary science at the University of California, Los Angeles, found about 16 of the more than 200 pits hospitable for human settlements on the moon in the near future.

Focusing on a roughly cylindrical 328 feet (100 meters) deep depression about the size of a football field in an area known as the Mare Tranquillitatis, Horvath and his colleagues measured the pit’s temperatures to find that temperatures in the permanently shadowed pits fluctuate only slightly throughout the lunar day.

Read: Indian American astronaut Raja Chari in NASA Moon mission (December 10, 2020)

It remained at around 63 F (17 C) and when a cave extends from the bottom of the pit, it too would have this relatively comfortable temperature.

“Lunar pits are a fascinating feature on the lunar surface,” said LRO Project Scientist Noah Petro of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

“Knowing that they create a stable thermal environment helps us paint a picture of these unique lunar features and the prospect of one day exploring them.”

The team believes the shadowing overhang is behind the steady temperature, limiting how heat gets during the day and preventing it from radiating away at night.

A day on the Moon is equal to 15 Earth days, during which the surface is constantly bombarded by sunlight and brutally cold nights which also last about 15 Earth days.

“Humans evolved living in caves, and to caves we might return when we live on the Moon,” says David Paige, a co-author of the paper.

Rivalry for Moon resources
In 2022, about seven missions are planned to the moon given that the Moon is accessible and cheaper than ever before, while NASA’s $93 billion ambitious Artemis program is scheduled for 2025.

Read: Human Colony on the Moon | NASA’s new feat! The place found on the moon where human settlements can easily be settled (July 28, 2022)

On the flip side, with so many unresolved political and geographical conflicts on Earth, will the human race extend the enmity on the moon once the settlements are set up in these caves? Rich lunar resources have a large number of nations and corporates competing for it.

No wonder, a study by an international team of researchers led by the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics predicts that the Moon rush may end up creating new political and economic tensions and even conflicts.

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