Tech UPTechnologyTerraforming Mars is not possible (at the moment)

Terraforming Mars is not possible (at the moment)

For almost a century, both science fiction writers and scientists have extensively explored the concept of terraforming. Much like setting foot on another planet or traveling to the nearest star, the idea of altering an uninhabitable planet to make it suitable for humans is a dream that many hope to one day see fulfilled. Today, much of that hope and speculation is directed at our neighboring planet, Mars. Elon Musk wants to do it. NASA wants to do it …

But is it really possible to terraform Mars using our current technology? According to a new NASA-sponsored study, the answer is no.

Simply put, they argue that there is not enough carbon dioxide (CO2) to heat Mars and this is a crucial step in any terraforming process.

The study, published in the journal Nature Astronomy, was conducted by Bruce Jakosky, professor of geological sciences and associate director of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and Christopher S. Edwards, assistant professor of science. planetary at the University of Northern Arizona (USA) and leader of the Edwards Research Group.

How can we Terraform Mars?


Many methods have been suggested to turn our neighboring red planet green. Many of these methods require surface heating to melt the polar caps , which would release an abundant amount of CO2 to thicken the atmosphere and trigger a greenhouse effect. This in turn would cause the release of additional CO2 from the soil and minerals, further reinforcing the cycle.


According to many proposals, this would be followed by the introduction of photosynthetic organisms such as cyanobacteria , which would slowly convert atmospheric CO2 into gaseous oxygen and elemental carbon. This same method was suggested in a 1976 NASA study. Since then, multiple studies and even student teams have proposed using cyanobacteria to terraform Mars.

However, after conducting their analysis, the researchers concluded that triggering a greenhouse effect on Mars would not be as simple as it sounds. They examined more than 20 years of data accumulated by multiple observations of spacecraft from Mars.

“These data have provided substantial new information about the history of easily volatile materials like CO2 and H2O on the planet, the abundance of volatile enclosed and below the surface, and the loss of gas from the atmosphere to space,” explains Edwards.

To determine whether Mars had enough gases for a greenhouse effect, experts analyzed data from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and the Mars Odyssey spacecraft to determine the amount of carbon-containing minerals in the Martian soil and CO2 in the ice caps. polar.

“Carbon dioxide (CO2) and water vapor (H2O) are the only greenhouse gases that are likely to be present on Mars in sufficient abundance to provide significant greenhouse warming. Our results suggest that there is not enough CO2. on Mars to provide this heating ; furthermore, most of the CO2 gas is not accessible and cannot be easily mobilized. As a result, terraforming Mars is not possible with current technology, “says Jakosky.

Although Mars has significant amounts of water ice, previous analyzes have shown that water vapor could not maintain a greenhouse effect on its own. In essence, the planet is too cold and the atmosphere too thin for water to remain in a vaporous or liquid state for long. According to the team, this means that there would first have to be significant warming involving CO2.

They also estimate that a CO2 pressure similar to the Earth’s total atmospheric pressure would be necessary to raise temperatures enough to allow water to remain in a liquid state.

Access to carbon-containing minerals deep within the Martian crust could be a possible solution, but the depth of these deposits is currently unknown. Furthermore, retrieving them with current technology would be incredibly expensive and energy intensive, making extraction highly impractical. However, other methods have been suggested , including importing flour-based compounds and volatile substances such as ammonia.

In the end, it appears that any effort to terraform Mars will have to await the development of future technologies and more practical methods. And while transforming the Red Planet to suit human needs may not be possible in the near future, the process may begin within a few decades. We may not see it, but that doesn’t mean that the dream of making an “earth twin” that truly lives up to its name doesn’t come true.

Reference: Bruce M. Jakosky et al. Inventory of CO2 available for terraforming Mars, Nature Astronomy (2018). DOI: 10.1038 / s41550-018-0529-6

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