Terraforming: Ideas And Thoughts

Terraforming Mars - planetWhat indicates if an environment is habitable or not? We are not naturally suited to live in an unfavorable environment.  The truth is that we are inventing our way to become people that could colonize other worlds. So, let’s talk a little about terraforming.

Terraforming is the combination of the Latin terra – or earth, and forming. Which you possibly know what forming means. It defines a process of converting an alien planet to be more Earth-like.

The idea would be to adjust a planet to be able to support human life without a spacesuit.  That action could take decades or even centuries, assuming it would even be achievable.

In the moment Mars looks like the perfect opportunity for terraformation.

About 4 billion years ago, Mars was really similar to Earth. It was warm, wet, and had something of an atmosphere. That’s because the Martian soil absorbed tons of carbon dioxide and nitrogen, that was floating everywhere in the air. But then active volcanoes converted those materials by baking them out of the soil, so they can be absorbed again. The outcome of this was an atmosphere that mostly stayed in place.

Asteroids, that kept smashing the planet helped out too, keeping it nice and warm. In the past, Mars had a magnetosphere. A planetary magnetic field that secured the atmosphere from being stripped away by solar winds. After some time, though, the planet cooled and lost its magnetosphere, there were fewer asteroid collisions and its volcanoes stopped erupting. Without all that support, Mars’ surface absorbed almost all of the compounds from its atmosphere and loss most of what was left to that solar wind erosion, leaving a freezing, barren surface.

Doesn’t it sound like a cool place to live?

Just imagine the red soil, the craters, the sleeping volcanoes. It seems pretty scenic. The world is of good size, not too far from the sun, and it has a slight atmosphere if a thin one.  But of course, you have to be fine with temperatures around -60 Celsius ( -76 F ) with – 128 C ( -200 F ) at night, unbreathable atmosphere and a few deadly doses of radiation. Not to mention, Mars has no atmospheric pressure, so your blood and liquids in your body would boil, your organs would rupture, and there’s no oxygen, so without the appropriate equipment, you can’t even gasp with fright. For most people, those things are kind of deal breakers.

It is a near-vacuum atmosphere and mostly CO2 with a small bit of nitrogen. By contrast, Earth is mainly nitrogen, a little bit of CO2 and 20% oxygen.

Setting all that aside, let’s assume that terraforming is possible.

Scientists who study terraforming have put a lot of thought into changing those things. It turns out that with a few centuries worth of struggle, we might be able to make Mars habitable for humans. Still, we are not going to lie to you it would be really tough. A whole bunch of major things would have to change.

Getting down to the facts, what exactly do we need to do to terraform the Red Planet?

We need to decrease UV, raise the temperature and pressure, introduce water and stabilize the atmosphere to make it more Earth-like.

Terraforming Theories

There are few theories about how to do this, so here are the major three:

Theory One:

Use greenhouse-gas generating factories to thicken the atmosphere. We are already accidentally doing this to Earth, so we have the technology to do this! More greenhouse gas means warmer planet, polar ice caps melt, setting loose the CO2 trapped in the ice. It will thicken the atmosphere even more and that will hold in extra heat from the sun. Then we just have to find oxygen and nitrogen, maybe by breaking up the H2O? All of that will take some time and it would be quite difficult to supply those factories with the resources they need.

Theory Two:

Building colossal, orbiting, 200 kilometer wide mirrors in space. They will reflect sunlight onto the Martian ice caps, raising the temperature and unleashing that carbon dioxide. From there it’s the same as Theory One.

Theory Three ( Our favorite ):

Smash icy comets into Mars.

The last one is our favorite for two main reasons. Theory One requires us to build and maintain factories on Mars, which is ludicrously expensive and WILL infect the Martian environment with human bacteria because it is all over us all the time. The thing is that once contaminated the bacteria could mutate and really screw up that planet for good. And Theory Two requires 200,000 pounds ( ~90,718 kg ) mirrors to be built in orbit, around Mars. ( Haha … NOPE )

Earth, on the other hand, has been smacked by a bunch of icy comets, distributing water and minerals on our planet. The impacts thickened the atmosphere and temperatures did rise. If we can somehow do this for Mars too, then we can create a terraformed Mars without putting potentially invasive bacteria on the planet.

Terraforming Mars - surface

According to HowStuffWorks, one amazingly large asteroid impact could raise the temperature on the Red Planet by 3 degrees Celsius. This would melt a trillion gallons of water, thicken the atmosphere and have the extra bonus of introducing oxygen too.

But …

Surely, any atmospheric modifications we made to Mars would slowly drift off into space thanks to the solar wind’s erosion and the low gravity of the planet. If done accordingly, metallic asteroids could be mixed with our thrown comets … A 2008 study from University of Toronto speculate that’s how the Martian core got a magnetosphere in the first place, so all that we have to do is to restart it. ( We still have no idea how to make that happen. )

So, let’s just say we successfully travel to the asteroid belt, get some giant space rocks, attach little nuclear engines on them which to propel them on a collision with Mars. Then what?

Well … then we need to introduce genetically modified soil bacteria, algae, plants and other oxygen and carbon dioxide cycle creating life to try to make the biosphere habitable, and one day …  like centuries or millennia later – we might get a blue Mars. Assuming that we don’t screw it up somewhere.

Anyway maybe we could figure all the missing parts in the future, but for now, terraforming another planet seems like a REALLY long shot with the technology we have today.

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