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Biology LibreTexts

8.2.3: Terraforming Mars

Terraforming Mars is the hypothetical idea that Mars could be altered in such a way to sustain human and terrestrial life forms.

 

LEARNING OBJECTIVES

 

Describe terraforming

 

KEY TAKEAWAYS

Key Points

 

  • The phrase “terraforming Mars ” refers to the idea that the planet Mars could be altered in such a way that it could sustain human and terrestrial life.
  • The impact of terraforming Mars would be that in the face of global calamity, there would be a place outside of our planet that would be a safe haven for mankind.
  • At this point, terraforming Mars is still a hypothetical idea.
  • Scientists believe that water and oxygen are available on Mars in a form that could be easily manipulated to be usable by human and terrestrial life.
  • Three major changes would have to occur for Mars to sustain life. These changes are: building up the pressure in the atmosphere, keeping it warm, and preventing the atmosphere from being lost to outer space.

 

Key Terms

 

  • Terraform: To transform the atmosphere or biosphere of another planet into one having the characteristics of Earth.
  • electrolysis: The chemical change produced by passing an electric current through a conducting solution or a molten salt.
  • Magnetosphere: The comet-shaped region around Earth or another planet in which charged particles are trapped or deflected. It is shaped by the solar wind and the planet’s magnetic field.

 

Terraforming Mars

 

The phrase “terraforming Mars” refers to the idea that the planet Mars could be altered in a way so that it could sustain human and terrestrial life. For a deeper understanding of the term, “terra” literally means land or Earth, so mankind would essentially be making (or forming) this land to be more like Earth.

image

Terraformed Mars: This is an interpretation of what Mars might look like if it were terraformed.

Some people might question why exploring this hypothetical situation is important. The impact of terraforming Mars would be that in the face of global calamity, there would be a place outside of our planet that would be a safe haven for mankind. At this point, terraforming Mars is still a hypothetical idea.

 

The Process of Terraforming

 

For Mars to be suitable for human and terrestrial life, changes would be needed to be made to its climate, surface, and general properties. Although Mars is most like Earth out of all the planets in our solar system, it is still highly unsuitable for life as we know it. It is even thought that many years ago, Mars had a more suitable living environment with a thicker atmosphere and sufficient water to sustain life.

There are three major changes necessary for Mars to be suitable for life. The first change involves building up the atmosphere. This simply means that the surface pressure of Mars would need to be increased to sustain life. Currently, there is not a solution to this issue. Second, Mars would need to be kept warm. Scientists are focusing the least energy on solving this issue due to the amount of carbon dioxide on the planet. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas which means that once the planet begins to heat, the excess carbon dioxide will probably help keep the heat near the ground. The last change that needs to be made is keeping the atmosphere from being lost to outer space. Solutions to this problem are not well-documented, but some scientists hypothesize that creating a magnetosphere would be helpful in resolving this issue.

It should be noted that water and oxygen supply are not listed in the necessary changes. Scientists have found that large amounts of water can be found below the Martian surface. It is currently mixed with dry ice (or frozen carbon dioxide), but it could be melted to be used as a water source. Additionally, it is hypothesized that through a process called electrolysis, scientists could separate the water molecules into oxygen and hydrogen to supply the planet with the necessary oxygen supply.