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News Link • Space Travel and Exploration

Down the Lunar Rabbit-hole

• Dauna Coulter via
NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) is beaming back images of caverns hundreds of feet deep -- beckoning scientists to follow.

"They could be entrances to a geologic wonderland," says Mark Robinson of Arizona State University, principal investigator for the LRO camera. "We believe the giant holes are skylights that formed when the ceilings of underground lava tubes collapsed."

Japan's Kaguya spacecraft first photographed the enormous caverns last year. Now the powerful Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC, the same camera that photographed Apollo landers and astronauts' tracks in the moondust) is giving us enticing high-resolution images of the caverns' entrances and their surroundings.

Back in the 1960s, before humans set foot on the Moon, researchers proposed the existence of a network of tunnels, relics of rivers, beneath the lunar surface. They based their theory on early orbital photographs that revealed hundreds of long, narrow channels called rilles winding across the vast lunar plains, or maria. Scientists believed these rilles to be surface evidence of below-ground tunnels through which lava flowed billions of years ago.

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