Can we make Mars Earth-like through terraforming?

 Mars around 3.5 to 4 billion years ago was thought to have liquid water, the landscape today shows supporting evidence that Mars once had oceans, rivers and lakes. Looking at Mars from planet Earth through a telescope you would have seen an emanating blue array of light transforming the red planet to what it is known as today, to a glorious ecological wonder of imaginative beauty.   

Mars was once a world!

Combined with a thick atmosphere, shielded from radiation with a magnetic field, plus a variety of organic molecules; Mars had the enormous favourable potential to support organic life as found on the planet Earth.  

Therefore, with human advancements and scientific understanding, this raises the question: could Mars once again be allowed to curate its own world with a little push. 

Unfortunately, Mars probably did not remain habitable for very long. Approximately 3 to 4 billion years ago the Red planet lost its own magnetic field allowing solar winds to strip the planet's atmosphere and water, turning Mars into the Red Barron chilly planet we know it as today.

If humanity embarked on terraforming Mars into that once potentially biodiverse world, what would it take?

Heating Mars to hold liquid water

Currently, with an atmospheric pressure of 0.6% of Earths, the atmosphere of Mars is just too thin to support liquid water. An idea once mentioned by Elon Musk was to essentially source nuclear bombs to explode over the ice caps of Mars. The idea as the nuclear explosion would take place over the polar caps in space, is that the radiation from the explosion would eradicate into space while the heat emanating from the explosion would melt the ice caps into a liquid state whilst vapourising the carbon dioxide into the atmosphere creating a greenhouse warming effect. 

The concept of vapourising the poles to produce a carbon-rich atmosphere raises many scientific questions. The ice caps hold an enormous amount of water, enough to cover the surface of Mars to a few tens of meters deep. However, the concern is that of the carbon dioxide released. The conditions just wouldn't hold for long as the carbon released would only be thought to double the atmospheric pressure to what it is today. This atmospheric conditioning would still not be enough to hold water in a liquid or vapoured state. 

As explored by NASA and ESA satellite data for 20 years the emerging evidence throughout the years show signs of there being an abundance of carbon sources held in material soils and tightly bonded carbon minerals. However, even if all this carbon was somehow mined the atmosphere on Mars would still only be around 14% of that on Earth. A 14% atmosphere would be a good place to start, but would only see a temperature rise of around 10 degrees Celsius, nowhere near warm enough to hold liquid water.

Future advancements in science and technology may hold the answer to this problem. Whereas others do believe other sources of carbon could be found on Mars through thorough mining asteroids or redirecting nearby carbon-rich asteroids and comets.

Could we breathe on Mars?

There is currently technological research aiming to convert carbon dioxide extracted from the atmosphere into oxygen. Although this concept offers a great opportunity to explore planets like Mars, we would need to look more close to home to really understand the biodiversity of the gaseous oxygen-rich cycle for long-term purposes. 

Earth transformed into an oxygen-rich atmosphere from an atmosphere dense in ammonia and methane. This transformation holds credit to cyanobacteria and the evolved chemical process known as photosynthesis which was thought to have occurred around 2.5 billion years ago. At this stage, Mars was already dry, red and dusty. Introducing these species to Mars with the right atmosphere could hold true to support the beginnings of breathable air and even biodiverse life. The consideration that Mars is an extreme environment that receives less sunlight than Earth and has severe weathered dust storms that block out sunlight for various periods means that a photosynthesising organism would need to be adapted to thrive in these conditions, which was once the case on Earth. Introducing specialised cyanobacteria or extremophiles could be the step forward, although some scientists do believe that this feat advanced once conditions change with just one favourable blend of grass to allow the diversity of life to evolve to environmental conditions on Mars. 

However, what we must remember is that evolution has a mind of its own guiding organisms to adapt to the conditions on Mars in a favourable way to thrive in the new environment. The new environment over many thousands of years just may not be favourable for humanity. 

That Magnetic field problem!

The slow eradication of the magnetic field on Mars as mentioned was the result of the dusty red environment on Mars in the first place. Even if humanity was to solve the issue of liquid water and breathable air, it just wouldn't last long as the magnetic field on Mars just isn't strong enough to protect the atmosphere from the solar winds. 

There have been some theories suggested such as placing a large enough satellite between Mars and the sun to divert much of the solar wind around Mars. However, this just may not be practical and would come with many problems itself. Studies have shown that even today Mars is losing its magnetic field. Maybe this is one of those scientific and technological quests that just doesn't have an answer as of yet.

To terraform Mars into a biodiverse world that imitates Earth just may not be probable, however, more research and future explorations to the planet may reveal more about and past or present life that may have or may be occurring. The more we learn and understand Mars and its environment the more advanced we will be in taking steps forward into other planetary explorations.


Popular Posts