A FORMER Nasa chief has explained one way that humanity could make the conditions on Mars tolerable to future colonists.
Speaking to The New York TimesJim Green described how the Red Planet could be transformed to give it an Earth-like atmosphere.
The planetary makeover would be achieved using terraforming, a controversial technique first proposed decades ago.
It involves using technology to make Mars more like our home planet, with a temperate climate, vast oceans and even flourishing plant life.
It’s been touted as the best way to make our species multi-planetary by top scientists and even SpaceX boss Elon Musk.
Dr Green, who retired earlier this year after 40 years at Nasa, explained how it would be possible to warm up and thicken the atmosphere of Mars using a magnetic shield placed between the planet and the Sun.
The protective instrument would stop the sun from stripping Mars’ atmosphere, allowing for the formation of a human-friendly climate.
“Yeah, it’s doable. Stop the stripping, and the pressure is going to increase. Mars is going to start terraforming itself,” Dr Green said.
“The higher temperature and pressure enable you to begin the process of growing plants in the soils.”
The astrophysicist discussed the plan with the Times in January but has been discussing it publicly for a few years.
During a workshop at Nasa’s headquarters in 2017, he presented simulations, models, and early thinking about how a Martian magnetic field might be re-constituted to make the planet more habitable.
“The solar system is ours, let’s take it,” Dr Green said.
“And that, of course, includes Mars. But for humans to be able to explore Mars, together with us doing science, we need a better environment.”
The proposed plot would rebuild the Martian atmosphere by placing it inside a protective “magnetotail”.
Scientists believe that billions of years ago the planet had a climate similar to Earth’s that was lost as its atmosphere was stripped away by the Sun. It’s thought that Mars lost 90 per cent of its atmosphere.
With Mars blocked from the sun, the temperature would eventually rise to allow CO2 to form in the atmosphere and to free free water hidden deep below the surface.
“This is not terraforming, as you may think about it, where we actually artificially change the climate,” Green said.
“We let nature do it. And we do that based on the physics we know today.”
The idea of terraforming Mars is the stuff of science fiction and could well remain a pipe-dream until we find out more about the Red Planet.
Terraforming involves releasing enough of the carbon dioxide held in the planet’s surface to thicken its atmosphere.
This process, achieved using greenhouse gas-producing factories or even nuclear bomb blasts, could theoretically raise temperatures so that water could remain in liquid form.
We currently lack the technology to pull off such a cataclysmic stunt.
The idea is controversial, as pumping greenhouse gases into the Maritain atmosphere would see humans willfully recreating the same effect that’s fueling climate change.
Many scientists argue that there’s no way to terraform a planet in a controlled manner and without running the risk of causing runaway, irreparable damage.
NASA scientists have previously thrown cold water on the idea.
“I struggle to understand why we want to terraform Mars,” Bruce Jakosky, a planetary scientist and principal investigator for Nasa’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN mission, said in 2018.
“I know a lot of people are pushing the idea of having it as a safety valve in case we muck up the Earth, but I think it’s a lot easier to keep the Earth in good condition than to change the climate on Mars.”
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