Updated: May 19, 2020
mY: 218 mM: Pisces Sol:05 Time: 04:59 (Airy crater)
Terraforming is a process of deliberately modifying its atmosphere, temperature, surface topography or ecology to be similar to the environment of Earth to make it habitable. From time to time some enthusiasts of space exploration raise this subject with next fresh ideas. Lately it was Elon Musk, who proposed new sun-like spots above Mars polar ice caps.
The idea of Mars terraforming went quite a short way from sci-fi novels to serious plans. There key idea is to raise the temperature of the atmosphere (now reaching -143ºC) and get liquid water. Best solution is the use of green-house effect. There are several ideas how to reach it: from importing ammonia or methane to quite fast and effective fluorine compounds (destroying completely any seasonal ozone layers), make grand mirrors or the use of nuclear bombs.
Then if possible - to introduce some earth organisms which already proven to be able to exist is hazardous environment: methanogens. (See Mars Ecopoiesis Test Bed experiment https://www.nasa.gov/content/mars-ecopoiesis-test-bed/)
The goal is to melt as much ice as possible recreating conditions that existed 3 billion years ago in no-time (looking planetary scale).
Due to almost lack of any protection layer we must also take care of solar radiation (Mars does not have its magnetosphere). There is an idea of magnetic shield redirecting solar, ionized particles away from the planet located in Lagrangian point L1 (around 500 000 km away from Mars). In fact the device can be no bigger than 50x50 meters. But rough calculation, done by Brandon Weigel, showed necessity of ~40 tons of uranium to be delivered every 2 years to the power plant of this device: https://medium.com/our-space/an-artificial-martian-magnetosphere-fd3803ea600c
Why the shielding is so important? Radiated heavy particles that are traveling with a speed of light towards unprotected planet, knock out atmosphere gas molecules into space, and Mars gravitational force proved to be too weak, to keep them around.
Ok. Let’s imagine we have the magnetic device that shields us, we have melted ice caps and there is warm enough to have liquid water and water vapor. We also started using some organisms. What we will gain after a few hundred years?
Firstly – we will not be able to breathe. The pressure is going to be too small. We will not die immediately - that is all. We will be able to get cheaper basic material: water. The heating of human habitats may be cheaper in long term scale as well.
Drawbacks: We are unable to say today – if there is any life on Mars – it will vanish or readapt to human invasion. We are also unable to say what could be weather conditions - large scale dust storms can change into something more dangerous. Tremendous cost of such transformation must be covered by Mars economic resources. I really doubt that Earth nations will support such investment indefinitely.
More over – the weak gravitational force is not going to help at all with keeping the newly transformed environment.
I am skeptical with terraforming on its planetary scale. Let’s say – the shielding device may come handy, but other efforts may result in vaporizing the water into the space. We will have to re import it from distant space. Also if you consider the fast growing science of biomechanics, genetics I think humanity may deal with environmental protrusions in much effective way (faster and economic justified).
I think we have no time for long term experiments – we need to develop second home sooner than in thousand years.
On the other hand….. imagine: snow falling on Olympus Mons for the first time in 3 billion years….
Awaiting your comments.
p.s. for those, who got through: Lagrangian point is is a location in space where the combined gravitational forces of two large bodies, equal force felt by a much smaller third body - so it is a cosmic PARKING PLACE.