Scientists have long wondered how we could live in other atmospheres. At least on Mars, the answer could be a network of large underground tunnels from millennia of high-intensity volcanism.
These lava pipes, as they are known, remain after the rapid outflows of lava across the country of Mars. On Earth, they would be much smaller or destroyed by gravity.
How can such tunnels protect astronauts? Astrophysicist and veteran Antonio Paris led the study from the beginning. Paris and his team have gone through several interdisciplinary phases in identifying lava tunnels.
First, he chose a specific place on Mars, Hellas Planitia, which means “Greek plain.” This part of Mars is experiencing less cosmic and solar radiation than most of the planet’s surface, and Paris says sheltering astronauts in deep lava tubes could reduce their exposure even more – in a key survival zone. By choosing the least irradiated physical feature and the least irradiated location, Paris has enhanced the effect of enhanced reduced radiation on both.
Space radiation is one of the few key obstacles to humanity’s quest to move into space. Exposure to Mars is enough for some researchers to consider nuclear engines, arguing that shorter exposure to nuclear radiation is still better than much longer exposure to cosmic radiation.
Can lava pipes be our ticket to a long-term residence on Mars? “In addition, potential lava tubes can serve as important sites for direct excitation and study of Mars’ geology and geomorphology, as well as potentially discovering any evidence for the development of microbial life in the history of Mars,” Paris concluded.