These lunar pits, a collection of caves and collapsed lava tubes carved into the surface, were discovered by NASA as potential thermally stable sites for mechanical and human exploration, resting at a pleasant temperature of 63 degrees Fahrenheit (or about 17 degrees Celsius).
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The new data comes from NASA Lunar reconnaissance orbiter (LRO) spacecraft and computer modeling, part of a lunar exploration initiative to map the surface of the moon first launched in 2009 – the spacecraft’s orbital mission was later extended and assigned to several other lunar science objectives intended to reveal information about the moon’s environment. The pits themselves were first revealed during LRO’s initial mapping expedition.
“Lunar pits are a fascinating feature of the lunar surface,” LRO project scientist Noah Petro wrote in NASA’s announcement. “Knowing that they create a stable thermal environment helps us paint a picture of these unique lunar features and the prospect of exploring them one day.”
Surface temperatures on the moon are generally not as temperate as the pits, with daytime temperatures reaching highs of 260 degrees Fahrenheit (about 127 degrees Celsius) and nighttime lows of -280 Fahrenheit (about -173 degrees Celsius). NASA said the pits are being studied as possible cave systems that could be safely explored or used as shelter from cosmic rays, solar radiation and micrometeorites that affect space expeditions. Several of the pits show evidence of cliff overhangs and other outcrops which provide much needed shade from the extreme heat and suggest underground caves large enough to enter.
NASA scientists, including David Paige, who co-authored the temperature measurement paper and leads the Diviner Lunar Radiometer Experiment aboard the LRO – says this temperature discovery could make such lunar exploration much easier for us non-mechanical beasts. “Humans evolved living in caves, and to caves we could return when we live on the moon,” he said.