This could be the ultimate home away from home.

A place that is miles from civilization, inaccessible to even your craziest relatives, and isolated from anyone’s day-to-day trials and tribulations. In fact, it is almost as far out as you can get.

“Straight to the moon” was Ralph Kramden’s dictum, and so it may be someday for what could possibly be an extended visit. Japanese scientists have confirmed the existence of lunar lava tubes on the surface of the moon. These tubes, also known as skylights, might be able to provide a place where human visitation and even habitation might be possible.

Lunar lava tubes are comparable to caves or caverns. Scientists think that they were formed from volcanic activity on the moon’s surface three billion years ago. Lava from ancient volcanic eruptions was thought to have flowed like a river, leaving cylinder-shaped cavities in to the moon’s landscape. Others theorize that lunar lava tubes might have been formed from seismic activity or even as the result of ground collapse from meteor strikes. These cavities have remained stable since their formation, which makes them even more appealing as a safe haven among the stars.

The lunar lava tube most recently discovered seems spacious, yet cozy, nestled in the lovely-sounding Marius Hills (a great name for a suburban development — lunar or earthbound). The Marius Hills are a volcanic region on the earth-facing side of the moon. This lava tube is about 213 feet wide and more than 260 feet deep, but has a lava crust or shield that would both stabilize and protect its interior structure and whatever (or whoever) is inside.

Protection is paramount for many reasons. Temperatures on the moon can range dramatically from highs of up to 400 degrees F during the day to frigid lows of -238 degrees F at night. Lunar lava tubes are estimated to be able to hold interior temperatures steady at about -4 degrees F — cold, but survivable. Other moon characteristics that would discourage establishing a lunar colony or base (never mind a visit) are the possibility of meteor strikes and the intense ultraviolet radiation. Lunar lava tubes can provide shelter from these harsh conditions, too.

Lava tubes are not only a lunar phenomenon — they have been found on Mars, too. One does not have to leave our atmosphere to find them though. On earth, there are lava tubes in Washington, Oregon, Hawaii, California, southern India and northeastern Siberia, among other places.

Lunar colonies or a moon base may seem a long way off, but still a visit to the moon is intriguing. Whether for study, a temporary outpost, a human colony, or just to get away from those pesky relatives, this discovery is leading us in the right direction for a more permanent lunar landing. And in the case of those pesky relatives, distance just may make the heart grow fonder.


Suzan Bellincampi is director of the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown.