Martian colonists could live in ancient volcanic lava tunnels

Sefrina Arifin

Scientists have discovered the safest place to build a permanent base on Mars: lava tunnels created by volcanoes that are now extinct.

Unlike Earth, Mars does not have a magnetic field that protects against radiation. So anyone going to live on Mars will require some other protection, and according to scientists from the Center for Planetary Science in the US, the solution is to go underground – and the deeper, the better.

The scientists first identified areas of the Red Planet least affected by radiation, choosing the great plain of Hellas Planitia in the southern hemisphere. This is one of the lowest-lying areas on the planet, so that the radiation must pass through more of Mars’ atmosphere before it strikes the surface, reducing radiation levels by 50%. But that is still too much – 25% more than levels encountered by astronauts on the International Space Station during stays which typically last only for a few months.

Hence the scientists’ proposal to make use of the lava tunnels. They have scrutinised close-up images of Mars’ surface and have found evidence that partly collapsed tunnels exist near several of the planet’s extinct volcanoes. Similar tunnels exist on Earth, and the scientists have used them to find out how well they protect people against radiation. The analyses demonstrate that the radiation in a tunnel on Mars is only 18% of the level on the surface of Hellas Planitia. If a tunnel can be identified in this area, it would be the optimum place to stay for the first Martian colonists.

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