Saturday, December 23, 2006

The future of the Human Species - Part 3: How do we engineer an Earth-like environment?

Author: K.A.Cassimally

The process of making an unearthly world more earth-like for the purpose of supporting human life is called teraforming - Steven Wintergerst.

Teraforming Mars is the only way we, humans can live and reproduce thus starting all over again on the red planet. As stated above, teraforming transforms any world unlike Earth into an inhabitable place for humans. Of course we cannot convert another planet, Mars for example, 100% into Earth. However Mars must resemble Earth in the following aspects: 1.Thicken the small existing atmosphere and make it comprise the important gases required for life, in their needed volume. 2.A new magnetosphere should be set up. A magnetosphere will protect inhabitants and every other object on Mars from being beamed with cosmic rays from outer space. All lives are in danger of being destroyed by cosmic rays as they may destroy DNA bonds of common life. 3.Make the temperature more or less similar to that of Earth. As you know, Mars is colder than Earth as the red planet is further away from the sun that Earth is.

Some issues however cannot be changed. The main ones are: 1.Gravity of Mars is much lower than that of Earth. If ever humans settle there, they will have to cope with this. They will use much less effort to move about on Mars. But they will then be condemned to stay there unless they exercise regularly. This is simply because their muscles will become weaker and weaker and smaller and smaller in size. These muscles will not be able to cope with the much larger effort needed to walk on Earth. 2.Mars is dead. They are no forests nor any bush. In fact there are no greens. Mars is forced to remain as this unless we re-melt its core (that’s a joke by the way).

As written above, Mars has a small atmosphere and it should be prevented from completely vaporizing off. One proposed strategy to prevent the vaporization is to put satellites around Mars but only just outside the planet’s orbit. When the satellites fly near the atmosphere, they will pull the thin atmosphere. When the same satellites following their own orbit go further away from Mars, the atmosphere will fall closer to the planet thanks to Mars’s gravity. The latter has pulled its atmosphere back down. When this process is done over and over again, the Martian atmosphere will thicken.

Another problem is a magnetosphere. A magnetosphere is a region of space surrounding in this case, Mars. The magnetosphere is thus dominated by the object's magnetic field so that charged particles (found in cosmic rays) are trapped in it. Mars doesn’t have any such protection and we should try to set one up. Because I don’t have any extremely good ideas about how to solve this problem, what I am going to say may seem like science fiction but who knows… How about installing giant electromagnets in strategic places of Mars? These will act as a big magnet and this is exactly what the magnetosphere is.

Many people think that to make Mars habitable, we only need to take the planet’s temperature into consideration. Well this is not true of course but these people will also insist that to succeed in making the temperature of Mars same as that of Earth, we only have to crash an asteroid or even a comet into Mars.

Now when you come to think of it, the basic essence of this idea is. If ever we manage to crash a space rock on Mars and this is yet another problem, the temperature of Mars will gradually increase. This is due to the fact that greenhouse gases like methane and carbon dioxide will be released. They will then trap heat making the planet become hotter and hotter. Unfortunately, scientists are working on teraforming so as to manage to make man, one day, live on Mars! The latter’s air thus has to be, well… breathable! If the asteroid/comet theory is put in practise, the percentage of these greenhouse gases will mount instantly and will take ages to drop back to normal.

To me huge mirrors might work out alright. These will orbit Mars and reflect light and heat from the sun to the red planet. Another idea is that instead of using these man made mirror-satellite, why not use natural mirror-satellites? Mars has two natural satellites orbiting it namely Phobos and Deimos. We could cover these with mirrors! They may then act as the mirror-satellites and reflect light and heat onto Mars.

Many of the present ideas of how to teraform Mars seem ridiculous and only good for science fiction movies but isn’t teraforming itself still in the realm of science fiction? Maybe these ideas will, one day, from part of the revolutionary ideas mankind has had; but maybe they will not.

Teraforming is a dream. And this dream lies on the shoulders of the next generation of scientists and astronauts. But we really should bear in mind that teraforming Mars is only a small step in human flight for survival. When the sun blows up, both Earth and Mars will disintegrate. Teraforming Mars is only an experiment before really doing the ultimate job: teraforming a planet outside the solar system for humans to live in peace at least for some millenniums. Can humans bear a 2 year-long voyage in shuttle condition though? Won’t we be obliged to modify ourselves to make this Mars experiment a success?

About the author: K.A.Cassimally is the editor in chief of Astronomy Journal and Astronomy Journal Ezine. He is also the co-founder of the RCPL Astronomy Club. K.A.Cassimally is best known for his article 'Harry Potter and the Moons of Jupiter'. He is also Senior Columnist at BackWash.com where he writes 'Not Scientific Science'. Website: http://www.rcplastronomyclub.zik.mu http://www.backwash.com/content.php?id=358 Email: kcassimally@rcplastronomyclub.zik.mu

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