NASA’s Mariner 9 was the primary spacecraft to orbit one other planet when it reached Mars in late 1971. It obtained there just a few weeks earlier than the Soviet Union’s Mars 2 and Mars 3 spacecraft, regardless of being launched 11 days later than these missions. Sadly, there was a serious mud storm when Mariner 9 arrived, and NASA needed to wait till January earlier than the spacecraft might get good photos.


When it did get these photos, they revealed a shock: volcanoes and lava flows cowl giant parts of the Martian floor.

Within the many years since Mariner 9’s go to, we have discovered lots about Mars and its geologic historical past. For example, we all know that Mars is dwelling to the Photo voltaic System’s largest volcano: Olympus Mons.

However volcanoes and lava flows are simply probably the most seen artifacts of Mars’ historical volcanic exercise. As our expertise has gotten higher and higher, we have been capable of see the floor in larger element. And that is revealed the presence of lava tubes on the planet.

Lava tubes kind when lava flows beneath the floor. As the surface of the flowing lava cools and solidifies right into a ceiling and partitions, the inside stays molten and retains flowing. Ultimately, the lava flows out of the tube in a downslope course, leaving the tube.

Lava tubes, additionally referred to as pyroducts, could be discovered on Earth, the Moon, and Mars. They might be discovered on different our bodies which have volcanic exercise, too.

However whereas Earth is bigger than Mars, terrestrial lava tubes are smaller than the most important ones on Mars. The HiRISE (Excessive-Decision Imaging Science Experiment) digital camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) just lately took an image of a collapsed lava tube ceiling that’s a lot bigger than something on Earth.


When HiRISE took this picture, shadows prevented it from seeing contained in the collapsed part, typically referred to as a skylight. But when the opening is 50 meters throughout, the lava tube is probably going that giant,too. On Earth, lava tubes are solely as giant as 14–15 meters (46–49 ft) vast, although they’re usually a lot narrower.

Some scientists say that exploring lava tubes ought to be given some precedence. Lava tubes might host any easy life which will have survived to at the present time on Mars. Because the planet misplaced its environment and cooled, the tubes might’ve supplied shelter from the more and more hostile floor situations. If life had migrated there in some way, it could nonetheless be current.

Science journalist Sid Perkins thinks so. In his article “Core Idea: Lava tubes could also be havens for historical alien life and future human explorers,” he stated, “If Mars ever hosted life, it could have moved into such refugia because the planet advanced and floor situations turned more and more harsh. Certainly, some researchers counsel that microbial life might but cling on within the Crimson Planet’s underground havens.”

If these underground havens are adequate for Martian microbial life, they could be adequate for people. Some researchers say that habitats or bases may very well be positioned or constructed inside these tubes. In the identical approach that they might probably present shelter for extant Martian life, they might present shelter for visiting people on the Moon, or probably even on Mars itself.

“Lava tubes might present secure shields from cosmic and photo voltaic radiation and micrometeorite impacts which are sometimes taking place on the surfaces of planetary our bodies,” stated Francesco Sauro, co-author of a comparative examine of lava tubes on Earth, Mars, and the Moon. “Furthermore, they’ve nice potential for offering an setting during which temperatures don’t fluctuate from day- to night-time.”

An individual stands contained in the the Surtshellir-Stefanshellir lava tube. (Dave Bunnell/Below Earth Photos/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 4.0)

However earlier than we use them for that goal, we’ve to discover them first. And although there is a sturdy chance that they are just like tubes on Earth, no person’s actually seen inside one but. There are photos that present a portion of the ground of those tubes, however that is it.

If we will discover them, it’s going to be dangerous. Astronauts on the Moon or on Mars usually are not going to be set as much as go spelunking, or to belay one another down into the opening. There are most likely some individuals who would dedicate their whole grownup life to being the primary to enter one, however house companies are reluctant to place folks in that form of hazard.


It will most likely be as much as machines to do the preliminary exploration. And scientists have already put some thought into that. One idea is the Moon Diver.

The Moon Diver is the brainchild of NASA’s Laura Kerber at JPL. She and her colleagues proposed the mission to discover the Tranquillitatis Pit on the Moon. The proposal included a stationary lander that will land close to the pit. Then it will launch a small, two-wheeled rover that will strategy the pit, and decrease itself into it whereas nonetheless tethered to the lander by cable.

Sadly, the Moon Diver was not chosen for funding. However the concept continues to be alive.

There are presently no plans to discover lava tubes on Mars or the Moon. However it may simply be a matter of time till we do. In comparison with among the missions proposed to discover Titan and Europa, for instance, a mission just like the Moon Diver won’t be that complicated, or costly.

However till then, they’re tantalizing targets for cameras.

This text was initially printed by Universe At present. Learn the unique article.