Researchers at RMIT university are developing a prototype device that scans deep below the ground to be able to identify minerals, ice deposits and hollow lava tubes on the Moon. It is hoped that this will help to identify areas for possible human settlement.
Despite being one tenth the size of existing ground penetrating systems, the prototype device can see almost twice as deeply below ground, detecting magnetic and electromagnetic waves to identify what lies underground. Mapping these resources will help scientists determine levels of habitability for humans.
RMIT University engineer, Dr Graham Dorrington, said their system could be mounted on a space rover, or even attached to a spacecraft in low orbit, to monitor for minerals in near-future missions and for lava tubes in later missions.
“After the lava tube testing later this year, the next step will be optimising the device so as not to interfere or interact with any of the space rover or spacecraft’s metal components, or cause incompatible electromagnetic interference with communications or other instruments,” Dorrington said.
There is speculation that massive tunnels left by ancient lava flows may exist at shallow depths below the surface of the Moon and Mars, providing suitable protection from the Moon’s frequent meteorite impacts, energetic particles and high-energy ultra-violet radiation. Temperatures on the moon can also reach extreme levels, with daytime temperatures reaching above 100°C whilst dropping to -150°C at night. However the insulated tunnels could provide a more stable temperature of around -22°C.