Scientists said this is a possible skylight into a lava tube. (Photo: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University)

Will we ever establish a colony on the Moon? 

Science fiction writers have imagined so for decades, while more recently several countries have produced real proposals for these colonies. Some even came with dates, like Japan, which hopes to get a Moon base up and running by 2020.

In 2016, that prospect still doesn’t seem especially likely, but scientists here on Earth are still discovering things about the Moon that could make a permanent colony more likely. 

One promising finding involves lava tubes, which are thought to be giant empty caverns just below the Moon’s surface. These spaces could provide a possible home for any colony, shielding humans from harsh radiation and the wild fluctuation of lunar temperatures. That’s not to mention the meteorites. 

An enlargement of the skylight. (Photo: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University)

The tubes, left over from when the Moon was a volatile and volcanic place, have been theorized about for years, but this week, scientists said they’d captured what they think is further evidence that they exist. High-resolution photographs of the Moon’s surface showed several telltale signs of lava tubes, like skylights and rilles, cavities which are thought to occur after a tube has collapsed. 

Rohan Sood, who presented the findingstells National Geographic that they are “the strongest evidence yet that shows signals consistent with that of buried, empty lava tubes on the moon.”

So they’re probably there. Now we just need to go back and find them. And then start building.