Yesterday's NASA Announcement Dealt a Big Blow to our Hopes of Terraforming Mars

Friday, 06 November 2015 - 1:04PM
Friday, 06 November 2015 - 1:04PM
Yesterday, NASA revealed that they had all but solved the mystery of what happened to all the water on Mars, but while that was good news in that it was an answer to one of science's biggest questions, it may be bad news for a corner of the scientific community that has big plans for the Red Planet.

The idea of terraforming Mars has been popular with both scientists and science fiction writers for a number of years now, and though there are a number of theorized methods with which to generate an atmosphere on the red planet, yesterday's news essentially rules out one of the most popular methods. 

For some time, scientists had theorized that the Co2 in Mars's early, potentially life-giving atmosphere had retreated into the planet's rocky surface. Terraforming advocates theorized a number of methods with which to release gas back into the Martian atmosphere in order to help trap heat and warm the planet up. A popular theory was to introduce microbes to the Martian surface which would then feed on the planet's abundant natural resources and create Co2 as a bi-product. With the atmosphere now warming up, liquid water would become more abundant and allow for the introduction of an increasingly wider range of life.

As microbiologist Gary King said earlier this year: "I don't think that it's entirely farfetched to imagine us developing something like a microbial farm on Mars. And not in something like 200 years, but far sooner."

Yesterday's announcement has unfortunately made such a plan slightly more farfetched than people like King would have hoped.The MAVEN data revealed that, thanks to Mars's lack of a magnetic field, the planet's atmosphere has been gradually stripped away over billions of years by solar winds. This means that the Co2 has not, as was once theorized, been captured by Martian soil and has instead vanished into the depths of space.

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"It's not there," said MAVEN's Bruce Jakosky of Mars's Co2. "It's been removed from the solar system entirely, so it's not possible to bring it back."
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There are other options out there for the terraforming of Mars, but this method, while still a long shot, was widely thought to be the most realistic. Unfortunately, science has thrown us another curveball and terraforming advocates will now have to take on board this new data when drawing up new plans.

SpaceX founder Elon Musk has talked often of how he would approach the terraforming conundrum, stating that he would use a slightly more direct method of warming the planet's surface up. That method? Pummeling Mars with nuclear weapons.

So, there's always that.

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