Mars Is Emerging from an Ice Age Into a "Warm Phase"

Thursday, 26 May 2016 - 3:34PM
Astrobiology
Mars
NASA
Thursday, 26 May 2016 - 3:34PM
Mars Is Emerging from an Ice Age Into a "Warm Phase"
Earth isn't the only planet currently undergoing climate change. According to a new study, the Red Planet emerged from an ice age 400,000 years ago, and is now in a "warm phase." These findings may help us send manned missions to Mars, as well as combat climate change right here at home.

In the new study published in Science, researchers studied radar measurements from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in order to discern layers within the polar ice deposits. Although modeling of Mars climate change has predicted ice ages before, there has been very little physical evidence, and these layers clearly point to an ice age that ended relatively recently. 

These results are significant for a variety of reasons, including the fact that studying ice ages can tell us exactly how ice and water have behaved on the Red Planet over the ages, as well as where ice deposits can be found. According to co-author Isaac Smith, who studies sedimentary systems on Mars at Southwest Research Institute, this information would be directly applicable to manned missions to Mars. 

Opening quote
"We want to know the history of water," Smith told The Verge. "At some point, we're going to have some people there and we'd like to know where the water is. So there's a big search for that."
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And, for an even more ambitious goal, these findings can indirectly help us colonize Mars when the time comes, at least if we're willing to get radical. Elon Musk recently stated that we could terraform Mars by nuking it, which would release CO2 and almost immediately thicken the atmosphere and raise the temperature of the planet. The study estimates that there are 87,000 cubic kilometers of CO2 ice in Mars' northern polar ice cap, and Smith confirmed that this would be a conceivable way to make Mars more Earth-like.

Opening quote
"The quickest way to increase the [atmospheric] pressure is by releasing that CO2 ice," Smith told Gizmodo. "It won't be enough for humans to live, but it'll be a big start."
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But before we start applying the results to interplanetary travel, we can use them to understand the climate here on Earth. Mars is undergoing climate change cycles that are very similar to our own planet, so studies like these can tell us more about Earth's future.

Opening quote
"Mars is a very good laboratory for what happens on Earth," Smith says. "Climate science actually has a very simple but perfect laboratory in Mars, where we can learn about the physics of climate change and then apply what we learn to Earth."
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Science
Space
Astrobiology
Mars
NASA

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