Inside a Lava Tube
Image taken inside a lave tube on Kilauea Volcano national Park, Hawaii.
Lava tubes are natural conduits through which lava travels beneath the surface of a lava flow, expelled by a volcano during an eruption. They can be actively draining lava from a source, or can be extinct, meaning the lava flow has ceased and the rock has cooled and left a long, cave-like channel.
Lunar lava tubes are believed to exist on the Moon.
Lava tubes are a type of lava cave formed when an active low-viscosity lava flow develops a continuous and hard crust, which thickens and forms a roof above the still-flowing lava stream. Tubes form in one of two ways: by the crusting over of lava channels, and from pahoehoe flows where the lava is moving under the surface.
Lava usually leaves the point of eruption in channels. These channels tend to stay very hot as their surroundings cool. This means they slowly develop walls around them as the surrounding lava cools and/or as the channel melts its way deeper. These channels can get deep enough to crust over, forming an insulating tube that keeps the lava molten and serves as a conduit for the flowing lava. These types of lava tubes tend to be closer to the lava eruption point.
Further away from the eruption point, lava can flow in an unchanneled, fanlike manner as it leaves its source, which is usually another lava tube leading back to the eruption point. Called pahoehoe flows, these areas of surface-moving lava cool, forming either a smooth or rough, ropy surface. The lava continues to flow this way until it begins to block its source. At this point, the subsurface lava is still hot enough to break out at a point, and from this point the lava begins as a new “source”. Lava flows from the previous source to this breakout point as the surrounding lava of the pahoehoe flow cools. This forms an underground channel that becomes a lava tube.