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Moon find may point to habitable tunnels

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Moon find may point to habitable tunnels

US President Barack Obama may have to reconsider his decision to abandon plans to return to the Moon - it seems our closest galactic neighbour is still throwing up surprises.

Last year, NASA'a Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) dipped into a low orbit around the Moon and almost immediately returned results.

Early in May, it found lost Soviet rover Lunokhod 1, which wandered off course 40 years and stopped sending signals back to Earth.

Later that month, it sent back an amazing image of a three-storey high boulder which had rolled across the Moon's surface before toppling into a crater.

Now it may have confirmed a theory that scientists had held about the Moon since the 1960s - its surface may hide a vast network of tunnels.

If they exist, such tunnels could offer the kind of shelter that would allow humans to live on the Moon.

"They could be entrances to a geologic wonderland," lead researcher Mark Robinson of Arizona State University said.

The series of photos were taken by the LRO when it passed over the Marius Hills, a location on the Moon known for its multitude of "rilles" - the long channels on the surface which first led scientists to propose the tunnel theory.

In December last year, Japanese orbiter Kaguya spotted an enormous pit in the middle of one of the Marius Hills rilles.

It was about 70m wide and dropped more than 90m to its floor.

The LRO recently returned clearer images of the pit which now have scientists believing it may be a "skylight" in a buried lava tube.

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Not surprisingly, alien watchers have jumped on the discovery, claiming its the perfect lair for extraterrestrial life, but Mr Robinson said if the tunnels existed, they could have a practical use for humans.

"The tunnels offer a perfect radiation shield and a very benign thermal environment," he said.

"Once you get down to two metres under the surface of the moon, the temperature remains fairly constant, probably around -30 to -40 degrees C."

Just what we would do once we got there is anyone's guess, but given that other recent discoveries point to the fact the Moon may hold 100 times more water than we think, habitable areas could be worth noting.

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