Mars offers an unfriendly welcome to future astronauts with low oxygen levels, an extremely arid climate, rapidly fluctuating temperatures, and potentially lethal doses of unfiltered radiation from the sun. But humans on Mars could find a degree of safety in an unlikely place: Martian lava tubes, Live Science reported.
Mars does not have a powerful magnetic shield to protect the surface from the sun’s radiation like Earth does. Even a few days of exposure to the sun’s harsh electromagnetic energy would damage cells and DNA and could cause headaches, flashes of light in the eyes, and cataracts. A sudden solar flare could result in a burst of deadly doses of radiation.
The red planet receives the most intense radiation at its poles, according to a scientific paper recently accepted and peer-reviewed by The Journal for the Washington Academy of Sciences. The Hellas Planitia, a basin more than 23,000 feet deep created by ancient meteors crashing into the surface, lies close to the equator and receives about 50 percent less radiation. A string of lava tubes branching throughout the basin could offer a safer campground for human explorers.
The tubes form when molten rock from a volcano hardens on the surface while rivers of lava continue to flow beneath the upper crust. When the flow stops, the molten lava drains out of the tunnels, leaving long, underground caves.
Researchers have suggested the lava tubes could potentially protect astronauts from radiation exposure, although the levels would still exceed safe recommendations. —J.B.