Lately, in the news, we have heard a lot about Elon Musk’s project of colonizing the Planet Mars. His plan is to start building a colony on Mars before the end of his life. But imagine a colony that does not need to stay in the protective bubbles of the man-made structures they built. A place where you don’t need your protective vital space suit, where you can breathe fresh air and grow your own food on the surface of Mars. This would all be possible if we could find a way to terraform Mars.
The terraforming of a planet is not an easy and inexpensive feat and certainly not realizable with our current technologies. So why would we want to endeavor in such a tremendous project? Here are a few reasons why. The resource depletion and energy demand of human civilization on planet Earth are one of our main concerns. At the speed that we are using our resources here on Earth and the rate that our population is expanding, if we want to maintain our civilization’s technological advancement, we will need to expand to a second planet to be able to harvest more material resources. Also, having two planets to harvest our energy from will surely increase our energy output. Furthermore, colonizing a second planet would help prevent humans to go extinct in the advent of cataclysmic events bestowing Earth.
First of all, Mars similar to Earth and already has a lot of elements necessary to life like hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, sulfur, nitrogen, and phosphorus. Moreover, there is some frozen water found in the polar cap of Mars and, additionally, the planet is in the goldilocks zone or habitable zone, where it’s possible for water to be in its liquid form.
The hardships of terraforming Mars:
Terraforming Mars will not be effortless. Let’s explore some problems that we will have to address. The first thing is that the planet’s atmosphere is really thin and that the lack of a global magnetic field will make it hard for us to maintain a more dense atmosphere. Furthermore, the planet only has 59% of the light level that reaches Earth, which will make it somewhat harder to warm up. There is also, the problem of low surface gravity, only 37% of the gravity on Earth, which will surely have health consequences for the colonists. There are certainly many more obstacles but just to name a few more, there’s the toxic soil, molecular instability of the bonds of atom making hard for the organic compound to form, the solar and cosmic radiation at the surface of Mars and the average temperature of -63 °C.
Some ideas of what we could do:
One of the things we will have to figure out first is how to warm up Mars, so we can release the carbon dioxide frozen on the planet’s surface, to thicken the atmosphere. Here are two ideas to warm up Mars. The first one would be to have orbital mirrors that would capture heat from the sun and redirect it to the surface of the planet. The second one would be to reduce the albedo effect by introducing some extremophiles like bacterias, algae, and lichens to absorb more heat.
The second major problem is the missing global magnetic field. One idea was to build sets of latitudinal superconducting rings to create an artificial magnetic field that would protect the atmosphere and reduce the amount of radiation reaching the surface. For the problem of the chemistry of the atmosphere, the idea was to capture comets and asteroids that are rich with the missing elements and to make them collide with the planet to add them to the atmosphere.
In conclusion, the terraforming of Mars is well beyond our actual technological capacities but who knows maybe in a couple of hundred years we will have started this colossal enterprise.