Can we ever derail Mars?

serons nous un jour capables terraformer rendre habitable mars

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If the potential landscape of Mars feeds into science fiction novels, it is of interest to scientists as well. Although its terrain and climate are hostile to human life, this process seems feasible to some, while others believe it is impossible. If so, the process could take hundreds or hundreds of thousands of years to complete.

It is a fact that man has been trying to change his environment and colonize other planets in the solar system since time immemorial. This is the state of Mars – very promising for terraforming -. Except that the red planet still has very hostile characteristics to human life. Terraforming is about changing the climate, surface and current characteristics of the planet, making it habitable. Its purpose is to unify the conditions of earthly life.

Land hostile to human life

Mars has some points in common with Earth: its rotational speed, the slope of its orbit, or the appearance of its surface testify to the warmer climates of the past. But at 160 times lower atmospheric pressure than Earth, with its average temperature of -63 degrees Celsius (far from the Sun), it is now uninhabitable and devoid of liquid water due to its very rare atmosphere and inaccessible to humans (96% CO2).

Artist’s impression of different levels of the landscape of Mars. © CC BY-SA 3.0

On another level, Mars has one-third of the Earth’s gravitational pull, which causes the human colon to eventually relax and lose muscle control. In addition, its surface is constantly bombarded with cosmic and ultraviolet rays, which can be harmful to humans.

According to the study ” Making Mars habitable Published Natural In 1991, the red planet Terraforming revitalized a lost magnetic field and gave it a second life by condensing its atmosphere. Most of the planet’s CO2 reserves will be preserved in an easy-to-use form. ” Understanding the magnetic field of Mars, how it formed and at what point in its history it ended is obviously important for future missions and is essential if scientists are to establish a human presence on Mars. “, To explain In a press release Most recently Hrvoje Tkalčić, a research geophysicist at the Australian National University.

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Different stages of teraforming

The first step in the process is to recreate a warmer atmosphere, raising the temperature of Mars to at least 60 degrees Celsius. In order to take advantage of the greenhouse effect, it would be a question of “polluting” its atmosphere by increasing the concentration of carbon dioxide. Despite 96% CO2 in the Martian atmosphere, the unsustainable amount is still low. However, there are other reservoirs in Martian soil (regolith) and polar caps (at the South Pole), although we do not really know how many. It should be noted that atmospheric pressure can increase by 20% during the spring when the polar cap melts under the influence of the sun’s rays and CO2 moves from the solid state to the gaseous state.

After a study By Christopher McKay and Robert Zubrin, a 4 C increase in the temperature of the polar ice cap would be sufficient to trigger the process. To do this, consider using giant glasses (possibly lighter) to reflect sunlight towards the poles. ” Glass with a radius of 100 km is required to evaporate the CO2 in the South Pole cap “, They wrote.” If they were made of materials such as solar sails, these glasses would weigh 200,000 tons. If they were made in space from meteorites or Martian materials, it would take about 120 MWe-years of energy to produce the required aluminum. “They estimate that so much power can be provided by multinational corporations in the short term.

As the temperature rises, glaciers may melt and plant life appear, reactivating the water cycle (in the liquid state). Fertilizing the soil with organic fertilizers is still necessary to release oxygen and breathe on Mars. By using microorganisms such as cyanobacteria for example (accustomed to extreme conditions), it can produce significant amounts of organic matter.

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Another step in teraforming Mars is to create an artificial magnetic field In the 2021 study By researchers including American planetary scientist James Green who worked at NASA. In fact, the magnetic field around our planet protects us from the high-energy charged particles reaching us from the sun and from the effects of the solar wind, which appears to have depleted the atmosphere of Mars. It should actually have an intense flow of electrified particles inside or around the planet, the latter case being highly imaginable by scientists.

Mars has two small natural satellites (Phobos and Timos), and thanks to them, it would be enough to form a ring of charged particles around the planet. Because Phobos is the largest of the two moons on Mars and orbits near it – in a circular orbit 6000 km from Mars – the researchers propose to ionize the particles on its surface to form a kind of plasma torus. . According to them, this will create a strong enough magnetic field to protect the human settlers who want to settle there. But the process will require more energy, perhaps nuclear fusion.

Terraform Mars magnetic field
Researchers speculate that a plasma torus on the surface of the phosphos could create a protective magnetic field around Mars. © Ruth Bamford, STFC

Currently, this is completely impossible because we do not have the technical means

However, some researchers believe that such an achievement is unlikely, at least not for very long. This is the case of Franck Montmessin, CNRS’s director of research at the “Atmosphere, Environment, and Spatial Observations”. Trust my science : “ To do At the moment, this is completely impossible because we do not have the technical means. We must use immeasurably more resources than we planned for the first human voyage to Mars. This is a project that, in my opinion, can only be imagined for centuries to come. “He is not the only one who thinks so. A study showed The CO2 reserves on Mars are insufficient and very difficult to access for teraforming.

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How soon will the teraforming dream come true? First and foremost, the inhabitants of the Red Planet will wear a spacesuit (pressure suit) with a mask and respirator. According to some, it takes 100 to 200 years to thicken the atmosphere and should be done without a space suit. The energy required would be similar to that obtained by Mars 10 years later, and would require billions of dollars. It can take about 900 years to reach the right area pressure and it will take hundreds of centuries for Mars to become fully terrestrial.

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