The Japanese space agency discovered a cave beneath the surface of the moon that it believes can serve as a base for astronauts.
The cave on the moon, discovered by Japan’s Selenological and Engineering Explorer, measures 310 miles long and over 300 feet wide. The probe found the cave using a radar system that can explore underground structures, according to the Guardian. The existence of the cavern was confirmed this week by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (Jaxa) via radio wave examination.
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said the cave could protect astronauts and their equipment from the sun’s radiation and the moon’s extreme temperatures; which range from about 224 degrees Fahrenheit during the day to -243 degrees at night.
“We haven’t actually seen the inside of the cave itself so there are high hopes that exploring it will offer more details,” Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency researcher Junichi Haruyama told Agence France Presse on Thursday.
Jaxa says that the cave appears to be structurally sound and speculates that the rocks, ice and water deposits within it that the orbiter “Kaguya” — named after a moon princess in a Japanese fairytale — found could be used as a source of fuel.
The cave is beneath the area of the moon known as Marius Hills, a bit of landscape dotted with volcanic domes. Jaxa believes it may have been formed from lava during a volcanic episode about 3.5 billion years ago.
“We’ve known about these locations that were thought to be lava tubes … but their existence has not been confirmed until now,” Haruyama said.
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency recently said that it hoped to put one of its astronauts on the moon for the first time by 2030. China also said that it plans to reach the moon by 2036 as part of its lunar and Mars exploration programs, the Guardian reported.
“Our long-term goal is to explore, land, and settle (on the moon),” chief designer of China’s space missions told the BBC. “We want a manned lunar landing to stay for longer periods and establish a research base.”
The U.S., Russia, China and India have all made successful unmanned lunar landings, but the U.S. is the only country that’s put people on its surface.