Even before all the science, we’ve always been explorers. Mankind’s insatiable need to discover new lands is an innate attribute that perhaps stems from the instinct of self-preservation.
Thankfully, the likes of Christopher Columbus, Vasco Da Gama, and their ships provided us with the mappings of our home planet. Since then, plenty of things have happened on the technological front. Today, we’re interstellar travelers, dreaming about what was, what will be and how we can harness the abundance of the universe.
According to scientific findings, the sun has a lifespan of about 10 billion years. Given that we are about halfway through that lifespan, it’s anticipated that the Sun will start its death throes in about 2.8 billion years.
If you really think about it, it’s not too far off. Depending on how the human race, there’s a high chance we’ll still be around to tell tales about this. Having highlighted this, now is probably the best time to start planning about how to prepare for the future. Finding a new home is first up on the agenda and the red planet has never been so endearing.
Given Mars proximity to Earth, it’s imperative that we use the second smallest planet in our solar system as a practice ground for how we’ll eventually explore extrasolar planets in the galaxy.
NASA, SpaceX, and a host of other scientific organizations have been holding talks about terraforming for a minute now. If you’ve missed all the hubbub, then, it’s best to know that it represents the next big thing in science.
Terraforming Mars means creating habitable Earth-like conditions on the red planet. Over the years, there have been numerous proposals brought forward on the best strategies on how we would be able to terraform Mars.
With most of the timelines ranging between 100 years-100,000 years, we need to find a sweet spot between acting too fast and responding too slowly. Rushing into the scene may prove detrimental to our future because there’s a high chance that we could face a runaway greenhouse effect akin to what is currently on Venus. On the same note, acting too slowly may see us face other challenges like changes to the natural rhythms of Mars. If this were to happen, it would be nigh impossible to anticipate what needs to be done for the perfect conditions to exist.
Mars experiences a 24 hour 37 minute day, has plenty of water ice and has a history of warmer wetter conditions. Terraforming Mars, therefore, doesn’t seem like the worst idea out there.
At present, the atmosphere of Mars is about 100 times thinner than Earth’s. Constitutionally speaking, it is composed of about 95% carbon dioxide, 2.7% nitrogen, 1.6% argon, 0.13% oxygen, and 0.08% carbon monoxide.
NASA’s MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution) mission, was established to look into the reasons behind the thinning of Mars atmosphere. Speculation is rife in the scientific community that more than 3.5 billion years ago, the atmosphere on the red planet was thick enough to facilitate liquid water to run on its surface.
Today, the Mars climate is much colder than here on Earth thanks to it being further away from the sun. The average temperature is about -80 degrees Fahrenheit (-60 degrees Celsius). During winter, the temperatures usually vary and it’s not uncommon to register -195 degrees Fahrenheit (-125 degrees Celsius) at the poles and 70 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius) near the equator.
Mars is home to the largest volcano in the solar system, Olympus Mons. The massive volcano (about thrice as large as Mount Everest) lies in the highly volcanic region called the Tharsis Bulge.
Just like Earth, volcanoes on ancient Mars were quite important in atmospheric recycling. It is through volcanic action that volatile elements are recycled by cooking carbon dioxide and nitrogen out of minerals and adding them back into the atmosphere. Volcanoes were also essential in replacing gas lost from Mars’s atmosphere into space.
The moment volcanic action stopped on Mars, atmospheric recycling ceased and Mars continually absorbed its atmosphere like a sponge. The core cooled, the magnetic field diminished, the atmosphere cooled and Mars atmosphere became vulnerable to electrically charged solar winds. Once the temperatures became low enough for carbon dioxide ice to form, more gas was drawn out of the atmosphere.
As expected, Elon Musk has been at the forefront discussing terraforming Mars. Not too long ago, the maverick entrepreneur appeared on Stephen Colbert’s “The Tonight Show” and at one point, revealed that the best way to go about terraforming Mars is by dropping thermonuclear weapons at the poles.
True to form, his proposal was somewhat unorthodox. Still, there’s some science to be found in the argument. By detonating thermonuclear weapons at the poles, we would be able to provide the necessary impetus for a runaway greenhouse effect on Mars. Carbon dioxide would melt at the poles and the temperatures would rise leading to the melting of ice and a thickened atmosphere.
Of course, all this is nothing more than theoretical talk. His idea has not been met with the strongest backing from the scientific community for good reason, a lot could go wrong.
Here’s what we believe needs to happen when it comes to terraforming Mars.
Genetically engineering plants, algae, and other organisms capable of surviving on Mars’s surface could provide the necessary shove for Mars to start heating up.
The Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), has previously opined that this is something that’s within their radar. Once we are able to hack the genome of such microbes, then, it would be a matter of waiting for the microorganisms to do all our dirty work.
Building factories which use renewable energy could play a vital role in terraforming Mars. Since the industries would be able to release gases like methane, CFCs, carbon dioxide, water vapor and a bunch of other greenhouses into Mars’s atmosphere, it would help warm up the planet.
While this approach would take centuries before coming to fruition, it would give us lots of time to come up with conducive conditions for the planet to become habitable.
Admittedly, this concept sounds like something from a sci-fi movie. We would have to design a massive array of Mylar mirrors and position them in such a way that they are able to reflect the sun’s rays towards the poles of Mars.
Given just how big the project reflectors would have to be (about as big as Lake Michigan), there’s a high chance that construction would need to happen in space. All the same, should we be able to pull this off, the energy directed back on Mars would be sufficient enough to vaporize the carbon dioxide and initiate a greenhouse effect.
Terraforming Mars is not an impossible dream. With the right plans, Mars can support greenhouse before the end of the century. All that needs to happen is the infusion of greenhouse gases on the planet.
Importantly, during this period, we need to enhance our home planets conditions for life to keep thriving. An increase in biodiversity, a drop in the acidity level of oceans and lowered geopolitical tensions would go a long way in advancing our cause.
If you’re curious about exploring the red planet before terraforming becomes a reality, you can start off your tour by having a look at our all-new MARS Pro augmented reality 3D printed model. Accurately modeled with the specifics of the planet, you’ll get an immersive crash course on what being on Mars is like. It’s simply surreal!