There may be a crater beneath the surface of the moon that scientists believe could one day serve as the home for a lunar colony.
The crevasse, measuring 31 miles long and 328 feet wide, was discovered by Japan’s Selenological and Engineering Explorer (SELENE) probe by using a radar system, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) confirmed.
Japanese scientists said that the fissure is located under a region of volcanic domes called the Marius Hills, and that this may be a subterranean lava tube that was caused by volcanic activity on the moon around 3.5 billion years ago, TIME reports.
JAXA senior researcher Junichi Haruyama said,
We’ve known about these locations that were thought to be lava tubes … but their existence has not been confirmed until now.
This tunnel has been proposed as a potential location for future lunar colonies or exploration bases. Lava tubes “might be the best candidate sites for future lunar bases,” Haruyama said. They have a strong structural stability that can offer protection from the moon’s extreme temperature changes, which can rise to as hot as 224F and as low as -153C in the span of a few hours, and the cosmic radiation that hits its surface.
This discovery comes as various countries expedite their moon missions for the next few years, including partnerships between the United States and Russia, and China and Europe.
Japan, for its part, intends to launch a manned lunar mission by 2030, while China is eyeing a deadline of 2036 for the same, among other ambitious plans that include a possible Mars rover by 2020.
There has been plenty of competition in the private sector, as well, in what has been dubbed the 21st century “space race.” Currently leading the pack is SpaceX, with its CEO Elon Musk announcing a two-person private moon trip scheduled for 2018.