Paul M. Sutter is an astrophysicist at the State University of New York at Stony Brook and the Flatiron Institute, host of Ask a Spaceman and Space Radio, and author of How to Die in Space.
Almost all science fiction stories begin (and sometimes end) with the transformation of the Earth into Mars, thus making it a more pleasant world.
But due to its cold temperature, distance from the sun, and dust in general, making Mars look more like Earth is more challenging than it sounds (and it seems difficult already).
Incredible Technology: How to Use “Shells” to Transform Planets
A Dead World
The problem is, Mars used to be cool. Cold, I mean warm. Billions of years ago, Mars had a thick, carbon-rich atmosphere, liquid water in lakes and oceans, and possibly even fluffy white clouds. This was when our sun was smaller and weaker, but sometimes more violent than it is today; In other words, our solar system is now more suitable for life than 3 billion years ago, but Mars is red and dead.
Sadly, Mars was doomed from the start. It is smaller than the earth, which means it cools faster. Our planet’s core is still molten, and the spinning iron-rich mud at the center of the earth fuels our powerful magnetic field. The magnetic field is a literal force field that can stop and deflect the solar wind, which is an endless stream of high-energy particles ejected from the sun.
After Mars cooled down, its core solidified, the magnetic field turned off, and the atmosphere was exposed to the raging solar wind. In about 100 million years, the solar wind swept through the Martian atmosphere. When the pressure dropped to near vacuum, the ocean on the surface boiled and the land dried up.
is too tempting: Mars used to be very similar to the Earth, is there any way to restore it to its former glory?
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Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your perspective), humans have a lot of experience in heating planets. Unconsciously, through our carbon emissions for centuries, we have raised the temperature of the earth’s surface through a simple greenhouse mechanism. We emit a lot of carbon dioxide, which is very useful for letting sunlight in and preventing thermal radiation from escaping, so it is like a huge invisible blanket on the earth.
Increased heat causes water to leave the ocean and wander through the atmosphere as vapor, increasing its own covering layer, increasing temperature rise, and therefore evaporating more water, causing the earth is warmer. the previous major waterfront properties are now more suitable for undersea undersea bases.
But if it works on Earth, maybe it can work on Mars. We cannot enter the atmosphere of OG Mars because it has completely disappeared into space, but in fact there are a lot of water ice and carbon dioxide deposits frozen in the polar cap of Mars, and some are just below the Earth’s surface.
If we can heat the bottle cap in some way, this can release enough carbon into the atmosphere to trigger a warming trend in the greenhouse. All we have to do is go back, watch, and wait centuries for the physics to work and make Mars a less obtrusive place.
Unfortunately, this simple idea may not work.
related: What would it be like to live on Mars?