Scientists Discover “Sweater Weather” on the Moon
Scientists at the University of California at Los Angeles and the University of Colorado at Boulder have discovered pockets on the Moon with habitable temperatures for humans, perhaps changing the Moon colonization debate.
While the moon’s surface temperatures “swing wildly between boiling hot and freezing cold,” the scientists found a pit that remains a steady 63 degrees Fahrenheit. The discovery marks a huge shift from the surface where temperatures swing from up to “260 degrees during the day and as low as 280 degrees below freezing at night.” With a single day or night equaling about 15 days on Earth, the already uninhabitable surface becomes even more so.
Authors of the study, Tyler Horvath, Paul O. Hayne, and David A. Paige, offered, “Since the discovery of pits on the Moon by JAXA’s SELENE spacecraft in 2009, there has been interest in whether they provide access to caves that could be explored by rovers and astronauts. These features are likely created by the ceiling of a lava tube (or more generally, cave) collapsing. Using data from the Diviner instrument aboard the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been continuously measuring the temperature of the lunar surface for over 11 years, we thoroughly characterized the environment of one prominent pit. Located in Mare Tranquillitatis [Sea of Tranquility], the pit’s thermal environment is more hospitable compared to anywhere else on the Moon, with temperatures varying minimally around a comfortable 17°C (or 63° F) wherever the Sun does not shine directly. If a cave extends from a pit such as this, it too would maintain this comfortable temperature throughout its length, varying by less than 1°C over an entire lunar day. Although we cannot be completely certain of a cave’s existence through remote observations, such features would open the door for future exploration and habitation on the Moon: they could provide shelter from dramatic temperature variations present elsewhere on the lunar surface.”
The duration of each night and day and the extreme temperatures pose extraordinary barriers to exploring or building on the Moon. NASA mainly uses solar power, which doesn’t work on the Moon, so an entirely new system would have to be developed. However, “[b]uilding bases in the shadowed parts of these pits allows scientists to focus on other challenges, like growing food, providing oxygen for astronauts, gathering resources for experiments and expanding the base. The pits or caves would also offer some protection from cosmic rays, solar radiation and micrometeorites.”
Study author and Principal Investigator of the Diviner Lunar Radiometer Experiment, David A. Paige, remarked, “Humans evolved living in caves, and to caves we might return when we live on the [M]oon.”
1. Should humans colonize space? Why or why not?
2. If humans were to colonize space, is the Moon the best place to start? Explain your answer(s).
3. Consider what conditions are necessary for humans to live in space. Make a list and analyze whether you believe these conditions can be met.
Shauneen Miranda, “Parts of the Moon Have Stable Temperatures Fit for Humans, Researchers Find,” npr.org, July 30, 2022
Holly Ober, “UCLA Scientists Discover Places on the Moon Where It’s Always ‘Sweater Weather,’” newsroom.ucla.edu, July 26, 2022
Tyler Horvath, Paul O. Hayne, and David A. Paige, “Thermal and Illumination Environments of Lunar Pits and Caves: Models and Observations From the Diviner Lunar Radiometer Experiment,” Geophysical Research Letters, agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com, July 8, 2022