These days, the talk about Mars is heating up with that mysterious big, red planet getting a much closer look. It is almost like we are on the cusp of living in our own science-fiction movie with the chance for humans to head that direction in the near(ish) future. And there are big plans for Mars with talk of eventual colonization and reconfiguring the planet to fit our needs. It’s all about the humans, after all. Other planets be damned. And one of the plans with Mars is even crazier than some of the other things we’ve heard about so far. Some scientists are suggesting we terraform the planet to make it even more Earth-like. Sounds like a plan and I can’t imagine a single thing that goes wrong with this.
Recently, a group of scientists from a number of different institutions including NASA, the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, and SUPRA published a paper titled “How to create an artificial magnetosphere for Mars” (via ScienceAlert) that began outlining the need to and the strategy to terraform Mars. In this paper, there are two distinctions made about the plan to terraform Mars with the “why” being pretty simple and the “how” not so much. For starters, scientists and dreamers see Mars as a pretty good long-term landing spot for humans because it has some key things in place. There is water beneath the surface, the nights and days have somewhat similar timing to Earth, and the temperature is within reasonable limits. So it’s a good starting spot.
But there are other problems with Mars that make it a non-starter right this very moment. There isn’t enough oxygen (though scientists are bullish on solving that problem). The other bigger problem is that the planet doesn’t have a magnetic field like Earth’s and this is where the idea to terraform Mars comes in. The magnetic field is important and frankly necessary because it protects the planet from radiation and solar winds. These problems can’t be seen with the naked eye, but long-term they are crucial for sustaining life.
In their recent study, these scientists outlined a plan to terraform Mars that would start with creating an artificial magnetic field. If it sounds tough to do, well, it is. In their proposed plans, these folks believe that by harnessing the magnetic energy from Mars’ moons, they can create an “artificial charged particle ring” and would do so by “ejecting matter from one of the moons of Mars” and after doing so they would use “electromagnetic and plasma waves to drive a net current in the ring(s) that results in an overall magnetic field.” Never mind, sounds pretty simple.
Sure, it gets a bit technical here. No one said that the plan to terraform Mars was going to be an easy one. If it was, one of the billionaires would have done it already. We have words like “dynamo circulation”, “solid superconducting current loop”, and “plasma torus” thrown around like we can just pick these things up at the Home Depot and get to work. But essentially, the plan is to harness the powers of moons to help reignite the iron core in Mars to create necessary power loop that would essentially kickstart the magnetic field generation. Easy? No. Impossible? Also no.
It is going to be some time until we are able to terraform Mars. Right now it’s pretty far down on the list as we continue to explore the planet. But understanding the things that will need to occur to actually make it happen is important. And it’s good to know that we have the brainiacs working on the problem, even if it does involve stuff straight out of a science-fiction movie.