As we blow through the resources on Earth, it’s clear we’re going to need a new planet soon. Since there isn’t just another Earth laying around, is it possible that we could make one through terraforming?
What is Terraforming?
Terraforming is the process of turning a hostile environment into one that can support human life. A possible place where this could happen is Mars. After all, it is literally right there and might be a good replacement for Earth.
What Do We Have To Work With?
Mars’ atmosphere is incredibly thin, only about 1% of what we have on Earth. On top of that, it is made of carbon dioxide, so it’s toxic to humans. Mars is also further from the Sun and that coupled with its thin atmosphere means it’s about -63 degrees Celsius ( -81.4 F). So, unfortunately, winter coats won’t quite cut it. Also, Mars has no magnetosphere, which means there will be no protection against radiation and it only has about 1/3 of the gravity we feel on Earth. So clearly, there is a lot we need to change.
How Do We “Fix” Mars?
Let’s start with the atmosphere. We would have to make it thicker and change its composition. One way to do this would be to trigger a greenhouse effect and make it so any heat from the Sun is trapped, heating the planet all over. We could do this a bunch of different ways, like using methane mined from the rocks on Mars, carbon dioxide or we could even use ammonia. We could release ammonia by smashing ice-rich comets from the outer Solar System and since ammonia is mostly nitrogen by weight, one we add oxygen through plant life, we could have an atmosphere pretty similar to Earth’s!
With a thicker atmosphere, the atmospheric pressure would be high enough for humans to possibly live. From here, the atmosphere will warm the planet and the rest of the terraforming job will be a piece of cake.
We can melt Mars’ polar ice caps (we are good at melting those) and have water, and with water, we can have the environment for life. Just make some changes to the Martian soil and set up shop on the formerly red planet.
How About the Magnetosphere?
The whole reason Mars lost its atmosphere is because it doesn’t have a magnetosphere. Mars’ global magnetic field shut down around 4.2 billion years ago and from there the solar wind and powerful sun explosions stripped away most of the atmosphere, sending it off into space. Which isn’t good because that means there isn’t a ton of carbon dioxide in the Mars rocks to release in order to trigger a greenhouse effect. Plus, any atmosphere we do add to Mars, won’t last very long. Eventually, it too will be stripped away by radiation and solar wind and whatever wasn’t would be hard to hold onto with Mar’s weaker gravity.
So, Mars is Out… Let’s Look at Venus!
Unlike Mars, Venus has a super-thick atmosphere and temperatures around 460 degrees Celsius ( 860 F)so we would have to change a lot of that, too. One option is to bombard Venus with hydrogen from gas giants, creating graphite and water that would turn into global oceans. These would dissolve produced nitrogen and lower the atmospheric pressure to something more Earth-like. We could also terraform parts of Mercury.
How About Other Place?
There is water and organic molecules in the northern polar region, so heating the bottoms of big craters with mirrors could melt the ice. Then you just add a dome on top to create a little life-bubble on a hostile planet, as well as the moon. Hopefully, that life bubble has wifi, I mean imagine the views from there… we would enter into a second selfie Olympics. We might be able to terraform Europa, if we could melt the surface ice, some of it would release oxygen which would populate the atmosphere and we could have a water world on our hands. It is also possible to terraform Titan, too, but we would have to create oxygen and make the moon less toxic to humans.
When Do We Start?
I want to live on another planet just as much as the next person but unfortunately, terraforming is incredibly difficult and really far off in the future. So until the day comes when you can wake up under another night sky, maybe we should start taking care of the awesome planet that is perfect for us.