Investigation of lunar subsurface cavities using thermal inertia and temperature maximum to minimum ratios

Rachel Ann Slank, University of Texas at El Paso


Previous studies have revealed a small number of subsurface cavities, including lava tubes, as well as skylights, lava flow pits, and impact melt pits on the Moon. The interiors of subsurface cavities would have been protected from micrometeorite bombardment, solar radiation, space weathering, and extreme diurnal temperature swings over long periods of geologic time. As a result, subsurface cavities can provide access to pristine crustal samples and stratigraphy. These cavities may also harbor important volatiles, such as water ice, that would enable future exploration missions by relieving many operational constraints, including the supply of propellants and life support. In addition, subsurface cavities could serve as the sites of protective habitats for future lunar explorers. The goal of this research is to establish a methodology using thermal inertia and the ratio of maximum to minimum surface temperature to detect and characterize lava tubes and other cavities in the lunar subsurface. Using data from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, thermal inertia and temperature maximum to minimum ratio maps were created and analyzed. Out of eighteen potential locations five had data appropriate for our methods. Out of those five, four had thermal anomalies consistent with the presence of subsurface cavities. Of these four locations, one, Mare Tranquilitatis, is interpreted to have a circular cavity present below a skylight while the other three – Highland 1, Highland 2, and Lacus Mortis – each are interpreted to have at least one lava tube.

Subject Area

Geology|Planetology|Remote sensing

Recommended Citation

Slank, Rachel Ann, "Investigation of lunar subsurface cavities using thermal inertia and temperature maximum to minimum ratios" (2016). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI10118211.