New Animated Map of Mars Shows Where We Should Build Cities on the Red Planet
At this point, it's pretty much assured that we're going to see colonists on Mars within our lifetime: between Elon Musk's almost single-minded desire to settle the Red Planet, NASA's growing suite of breakthrough technology, and billions of dollars of investment in space exploration, we have the will and the resources to make it happen.
The next question is where we're going to live on Mars—and Wieger Wamelink has the answer: an animated map of Mars.
Wamelink, a scientist for Wageningen University & Research in the Netherlands, is the principal researcher for Food in Mars and Moon project. After looking at various factors, including climate, terrain, radiation exposure, and soil quality, he has created a hotspot map that color codes different areas of Mars according to their potential for settlement—the closer to dark blue, the more promising the area. You can see the full map in the video here.
Apart from the physical features of the area, some of the most important factors are going to be soil quality and ice, says Wamelink: "We looked at what nutrients were in the soil, for example, magnesium and calcium and also all the nourishments like phosphates and nitrates so what you would normally expect in manure. And we also looked at the amount of ice that is available. It's not the same everywhere on Mars. There are areas where there is almost no ice on Mars and there are areas where there's a lot of ice."
The ability to grow crops is going to be essential to settling Mars: every resupply mission is going to take 10 months to reach the planet, and a suitable window for launching those missions only happens once every two years.
Fortunately, Wamelink has been raising crops in simulated Martian soil for years and found that it's surprisingly arable—he's been able to grow potatoes, carrots, green beans, and tomatoes, as well as introduce earthworms to make the soil more fertile. Potatoes in particular have proven to be excellent candidates for becoming a Martian staple—in fact, they may be the key to making settlement sustainable.
There's one problem, however—right now, they only grow to about the size of a walnut or salt shaker, and they don't taste great.
We never thought we would say this, but it appears that the future of human space exploration rests on these potatoes.