New methods for the discovery and characterization of lunar lava tubes using Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter data

Jonathan A Meyer, University of Texas at El Paso


Lava tubes have the potential to serve as a sustainable solution to long-term lunar habitation by providing protection from radiation and micrometeorite bombardment while potentially providing resources in the form of trapped water ice. They also pose compelling science targets in their own right. While the potential benefits of utilizing lunar lava tubes is clear, their discovery is less straightforward. Formation processes for lava tubes do not always result in a surface expression, making their discovery using remotely sensed imagery difficult. Furthermore, there is the potential for lava tubes to be covered by secondary lava flows, impact ejecta, or other deposits, masking their surface expression. We demonstrate that it is possible to detect and characterize subsurface lunar lava tubes with little or no surface expression through the integration of topographic and thermal inertia measurements derived from Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) data. We create topographic, thermal inertia, and morphologic maps over four potential lunar lava tube candidates. We are able to detect a thermal inertia high along the trend of the lava tube candidates, which we believe is the combined result of the subsurface lava tube void space and variations in the thickness and thermophysical properties of the lunar regolith over and adjacent to the subsurface cavity. The thermal inertia results are supported by the presence of a cylindrical, curvilinear topographic high along the trend of the thermal inertia high, specifically at the Ingenii Hole "skylight" location, which is inferred to result from overflow lava tube formation processes. The effectiveness of these new detection methods is supported by a periodic heating and cooling finite element model developed to determine the influence a subsurface cavity would have on surface temperatures. The modeled diurnal surface temperature pattern at a point over a subsurface tube agrees with observations made by the LRO Diviner Lunar Radiometer Experiment (DLRE).^

Subject Area

Geology|Planetology|Remote Sensing

Recommended Citation

Meyer, Jonathan A, "New methods for the discovery and characterization of lunar lava tubes using Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter data" (2012). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI1512588.