Scientists just discovered that there's water sweet water on Mercury. They also discovered that while the equator is flaming hot, and the poles are frozen over, there are plenty of spots in between that boast more moderate temperatures.
Natch, water-plus-tolerable temps on a nearby planet equal good old fashioned speculation about whether humans might be able to move on in.
As such, The New York Times report that broke the news confirming H20 on Mercury concludes with a couple of those irresistable question marks:
The water could also be an intriguing resource for people. Between the scorched equator and the frozen poles, temperatures on Mercury can be temperate, especially a few feet below the surface, where the soil insulates against the temperature swings between day and night — an ideal location to build a colony.
What's this now? Is the Grey Lady just tittilating us with visions of underground cities on the planet that swings closest to the sun? It's not just her: “People joke about it, but it’s not so crazy, really,” David A. Paige, the geology professor at U.C.L.A. who crunched the Mercury data told the Times.
Well, it's kind of crazy. The obscene amount of investment, planning and technological advancement necessary to build an underground colony two planets away lands the idea squarely in the realm of not happening anytime soon. But there's always the days after soon to consider, of course. And there are plenty of folks who swear they're serious about building otherworldy underground cities elsewhere—notably, the moon and Mars.
For instance, NASA has toyed with the idea of taking advantage of frozen tunnels on the moon as a prime location to build a moonbase. Discovery's Ray Villard explains:
the lava tubes would allow for ant farm-like colonies of humans living underground.
The tunnels would shield colonists from micrometeorites, lethal X-ray blasts from our petulant sun, and cosmic rays from the galaxy. Temperatures inside the tubes would remain a constant -35 degrees Fahrenheit. That's chilly, but much more stable for complex equipment. On the surface, machinery and structures would degrade under temperature extremes that swing from +250 degrees to -250 during the lunar day/night cycle.
For those reasons, Russian explorers are already whipping up a blueprint to build one such subterranean moon coolony.
And Villard notes that the same principles apply to Mars. "Lava tubes could also make great habitats for future Mars colonists. Mars orbiter photos reveal skylight holes on the flanks of the giant shield volcano Olympus Mons," he writes. "These would provide the same luxuries to colonists as lunar lava tube bases."
As with Mars and the moon, so with Mercury. Recent satellite data reveals that Mercury too might have some of those lava tubes, too—maybe they'd help Mercury City enthusiasts set up shop. So let's get this ball rolling, I say. Moon bases, Mars colonies, Mercury sub-cities—let's get cracking on these interplanetary mole-people metropolises.