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Terraforming Mars - How do we do it? Can it be 'fast'?

Posted by: zinfab - Tue Jul 27, 2004 5:52 pm
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Terraforming Mars - How do we do it? Can it be 'fast'? 
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Post Terraforming Mars - How do we do it? Can it be 'fast'?   Posted on: Tue Jul 27, 2004 5:52 pm
space.com covered an interesting debate:

Quote:
At the Astrobiology Science Conference earlier this year, scientists and science fiction writers -- from NASA researcher Chris McKay to author Kim Stanley Robinson -- faced off on the promises and pitfalls of terraforming Mars. Their debate is recreated in these seven pages. The Mars Terraforming Debate was co-sponsored by NASA's Astrobiology Magazine, the SciFi Museum (Seattle), and Breakpoint Media. It is reproduced here in cooperation with Astrobiology Magazine.
http://space.com/scienceastronomy/terraform_debate_040727-1.html

While I don't mind descending into the 'should we' portion of the debate, I'd really like to talk about the "HOW WILL WE DO IT"? Assuming that we are terraforming for HUMAN residency (whether we alter the humans or the environment).

Can it be done in "hundreds of years" instead of "tens of thousands of years"?

How?

I'm particularly enamored of the "alter the human to live on Mars." This seems like an easier thing to accomplish than harnessing and adapting the entire planet to be suitable for humans.


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Post    Posted on: Wed Jul 28, 2004 12:52 am
It's an interesting proposition, one I disagree with but it's still interesting nevertheless.

To terraform Mars a huge amount of effort would probably be needed, a project on a scale to dwarf all others. Much of the stuff i've read on the subject talks about creating factories on Mars to produce greenhouse gases to warm Mars (finally, something man is good at thats useful!). Because of the types of resources available on Mars i am still sceptical to just how this would be done.

After the supposed warming and the thicker atmosphere, it might then be possible to grow oxygen producing plants to create an environment suitable for humans and other forms of life.

The reason why many have suggested terraforming Mars is that it contains similar elements to earth. The main problem i find with try to achieve terraforming is that the elements are in very useless amounts and percentages. We would have to use much of earths natural reources to turn mars into an earthlike world! In any event such an endevour would probably take some time. I also wonder, who would fund such a thing?

Edit: after all this you then have to think, the current theory of why Mars doesn't have much of an atmosphere now is because its megnetosphere failed, I would like to see someone ressurect that! :)

Edit 2: the sun "blew" the atmosphere away because of the magnetosphere failing.


Last edited by Nova on Wed Jul 28, 2004 5:48 pm, edited 1 time in total.



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Post    Posted on: Wed Jul 28, 2004 2:20 am
How about triggering a volcanic explosion on Olympus Mons through careful use of nuclear charges? What would be the effect on the atmosphere?

Might also want to included special genetically engineering plant life.


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Post    Posted on: Wed Jul 28, 2004 1:04 pm
I hear the current theory of how Mars lost it's water is by the Sun "blowing" it away.

http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2001/ast31jan_1.htm

If this is the case then the classical idea of terraforming Mars, might not work. What ever atmosphere we create there will likely be blown away also.

However here is an interesting article on the possible use of perfluorocarbons to warm up the red planet. It still would be short a magnetic field though, but the editors note in the second article seems to point out this might not be much of a problem. I would error on the side of caution and say it most likely would. Mainly because the gravity of Mars is lower than that of Venus.

http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2001/ast09feb_1.htm


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Post    Posted on: Wed Jul 28, 2004 1:31 pm
Taking existing technologies and the progress in research and development to be expected in the near future as the basis of estimations and argumentation I suppose only local terraforming to be possible.

Local terraforming means terraforming within houses, within caves closed against the martian environment and within craters closed against the martian environment. All these houses, caves and craters might be connected to another and create an earth-like area on mars this way. It might be possible to extend this area and to extend it to altitude too and it would be similar to a greenhouse partly.

Using plants and natural ressources of earth it might be possible to change th martian soil to an earth-like soil. But all this has to be found out by experiments and test lasting long.

Protection against solar wind and radiation is required - the solution partial might be genetic changed plants resistable to wind and radiation or perhaps make use of them. To think that being possible seems be very speculative but scientist should try it.

What ever might be acchieved - it will be a fragile world compared to earth. There will have to be a significant economical advantage to get the chance to create it I think.



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Post    Posted on: Sun Aug 01, 2004 7:34 pm
Ekkehard Augustin wrote:
What ever might be acchieved - it will be a fragile world compared to earth.


More than we realize. Any terraforming done will fight for the next thousands of years the planet's "desire" to return to it's natural state (in this case, cold and uninhabitable).

One theory is to steal several comets from the Oort Cloud and ram them into the Martian atmosphere to warm up the planet and add much-needed water and organic compounds.

Regardless, I doubt that much of anything can be done before the advent of fusion power: any theory will require truly massive amounts of energy, and especially with the comet idea: the Oort Cloud's a long ways away, and fusion drives would speed up the process by several orders of magnitude.

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Post    Posted on: Mon Aug 02, 2004 12:10 am
spacecowboy wrote:
More than we realize. Any terraforming done will fight for the next thousands of years the planet's "desire" to return to it's natural state (in this case, cold and uninhabitable).


I think this will be the real problem with terraforming Mars. I suspect that the core issue is simply that it's too small of a planet. The lack of a magnetic field indicates to me that the core has cooled to the point where it is no longer in motion and cannot generate a magnetic field or it also is too small in relation to the planet to do much. With a smaller planet you would constantly be losing atmosphere and hydrogen into space due to the lesser gravity I would imagine.

I suspect in the long run Venus will be a much more robust and stable planet to terraform. Although the big problem there I think would be adding a moon to help pull the excess atmosphere off to prevent it from returning to it's current state.


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Post    Posted on: Mon Aug 02, 2004 11:36 am
The loss of atmosphere at mars is due to the solar wind, to the absence of plants and to the termination of continental drift long time ago. I've a german article saying that oxygen continuosly is getting bound in carbonates on earth as well as on mars and that the oxygen bound is being recycled later when the carbonates by continental drift are vanishing in the earth. Because on mars there is no continental drift the carbonates don't vanish and the oxygen isn't going to be recycled.

Are there technical solutions to recycle the oxygen out of carbonates?

On earth oxygen is vanishing in the deserts too - there it is reacting with iron.

Based on local terraforming it will be easier to settle on Mars than on Venus because Venus has to be cooled down - the whole planet or the man has to settle in the upper atmosphere at altitudes where the temperatures are earthlike. Will that be possible? It seems fragile too - no water, clouds of sulfur acid. And the knowledge about Venus is insufficient. But it is supposed that its current state is due to formerly planet-wide parallel volcanism. May be theses volcanos are still active today.

Short time ago I've read that there are mysterious structures in the venusian atmosphere supposed perhaps to be microbes.

There might be solutions to settle on both planets - and on both it will be fragile. It might be much easier to settle on the galileian moons of Jupiter once a method of protection against Jupiter's radiation is found and established.



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Post    Posted on: Mon Aug 02, 2004 3:47 pm
TJ wrote:
I suspect in the long run Venus will be a much more robust and stable planet to terraform. Although the big problem there I think would be adding a moon to help pull the excess atmosphere off to prevent it from returning to it's current state.


Heh... What we really need is a transporter gadget to take the atmosphere from Venus and put it on Mars.... Kill two birds with one stone.

Honestly, though, the magnetic field problem (of both Venus and Mars) is easy enough to solve with a big enough energy and materials budget: just build some big-*** superconductors. Of course, you're dealing with hundreds of superconductors each the size of a city, with power requirements to match. Hence my belief that very little can be done until the invention of controlled fusion power.

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Post    Posted on: Mon Aug 02, 2004 5:37 pm
At both planets a magnetic field has been detected. In the discussion about space hotels and inflatables elsewhere in the board I mentioned this asking wether this is showing a way to electromegnetic shielding But here it has quite another meaning:

First the scientific results I mentioned in the other discussion say that the venusian field would be a sufficient protection shield against the solar wind for life if life were possible there. And there may be microbian life in the upper atmosphere because mysterious structures have been detetcted and becuase of this scientists wanted ESA to send a robot there. There has been a project really but ESA had to cancel it due to lack of fiscal and financial ressources.The structures are detected by radio telescopes. But if they are really microbes they be of that kind resistant to radiation and solar partcles. (...)

Mars has a weak magnetic field too. But I didn't read anything about the cuases and sources yet.

Settlements on venus today would have to be based on huge habitats resistent to acid. In principle they will have to be balloons or zeppelines. And a number of lightnings hardly to imagine is to be expeted. This kind of bhabitats to design seems to be much more ifficult than has for mars. It may be a good project but it is requiring mor sophistication than mars habs I think.

Do someboda have ideas?



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Post    Posted on: Mon Aug 02, 2004 9:09 pm
Ekkehard Augustin wrote:
There has been a project really but ESA had to cancel it due to lack of fiscal and financial ressources.


If you're talking about Venus Express as far a i'm aware it's still going ahead and should be ready for 2005. The Bepi Colombo Mercury mission I think is the only one that has suffered cutbacks so far.

As for Mars's magnetic field, TJ basically got the current scientific theory just about right, Mars probably isn't large enough to support an internal "dynamo" magnetic field as the molten metal will just cool too quickly. Mars does have a small erratic magnetic field but it due to the crust that was magnetised by the ancient dynamo but is nowhere near as strong and only covers certain parts of the planet. It is thought that the main reason for a lack of atmosphere is that the solar wind, no longer being deflected by a meaningful magnetic field is free to strip away any new atmosphere. This is going to be a huge problem.

As for extracting oxygen from carbonates, there are many techniques that have been developed for all sorts of carbonates so that shouldn’t be a problem for a Martian community.

With this Venus thing I think you are forgetting one very very big thing though, the pressure. The pressure on the surface of Mars is around 90 atm, 90 times that of earth. No spacecraft have ever survived more than an hour, most less than that. The construction problems posed by this would make any settlement pointless and would make any sort of terraforming additionally more difficult, you can’t do it at the surface. Venus might have an atmosphere but it’s not the sort we want. Quite frankly if there is the possibility of alien lifeforms there or even if not, I don’t think that terraforming would be a good idea, we would learn much more if we don't.

Personally I think that if humans are to expand out into the solar system then at least the largest communities should be orbital one's or simalar to the airships Ekkehard is talking about. In exploring space we should be careful not to destroy things in the process.

And don’t forget, if you have to terraform, the real estates’ gotta be empty first! :D


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Post    Posted on: Mon Aug 02, 2004 11:11 pm
Well when you start talking terraforming you've got to think big. I figure the best way to go about straightening out Venus would be to put a planet sized sun shield into place, not necessarily a single piece type of thing but something like a bunch of giant mylar mirrors setup at the L1 point between Venus and the sun. They could be designed so that the light pressure is deflected to even help keep them in place, kind of like tacking into the wind on a sailboat. I would imagine even with zero sunlight getting through to Venus it'd take quite some time for the atmosphere to freeze out. Once that happens you'd need some sort of Von Neumann machines to convert the then frozen atmosphere into something less poisoness. I'm not even sure if that would work since Venus may very well be at a point where it actually radiates out more energy than it receieves from it's own internal heat or some other heat dynamic that nobody understands that would simply keep it in some sort of hell-like inferno.

If the resources could be marshalled though I don't think the ridiculously thick atmosphere would be that big of a problem. Instead of thinking surface probes like the Russians landed, think Great Pyramid of Giza sized processing facilities dropped from orbit that impact and start processing the atmosphere. Sure it's way outside of current technical capability right now but it may be technically possible. After all the Great pyramid was built why not something similar made out of heat shielded blocks of titanium alloy as big as the 100 ton stones used by the pyramid. Mercury would probably have to be robotically strip mined to build such things but the end result would be a entire second planet. If you wanted to be creative you could design the processing plants to double up as giant plasma rockets that could possibly move Venus's orbit out a bit. You'd need hundreds or more likely thousands of them. It'd be one hell of a puzzle for future archeologists millions of years later as they try to figure out what all those giant titanium things were for. :P Most of that kind of stuff to even be considered would require some sort of viable fusion power, just to start.

That's assuming of course that there is no form of life in the upper atmosphere of Venus.

It'd probably be easier to simply build a second planet out near the Earth-Sun L3 point. Just give every piece of slag from asteroid mining a slight push so it ends up at that L3 point sometime in the next thousand years. Chop up Mercury, the Jovian Trojans and several of the unimportant outer moons and a bunch of Kuiper belt objects and I'm sure there'd be enough mass to make something between the size of Mars and Venus.

As you can tall I've read far too much science fiction. :roll: Larry Nivens Ring world is probably a much better solution though if your going to start thinking solar-system-scaping.


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Post    Posted on: Tue Aug 03, 2004 9:19 am
Hello, Nova,

you're responding not only to me I suppose.

You're right - I was talking about Venus Express but the news left me confused because one day thing were not good for the Express, next day they were good then again a little bit worse and so on.

Concerning Venus the pressure only at the surface and between the surface and the clouds is large (like in the greatets deep of earthian oceans). 50 Km above the surface the pressure is "normal" and temperatures are normal too. Exact data I will have to look for in books and articles.

Because acids are storable in containers etc. in principle ships able to withstand the venusian atmosphere will be possible - but they will weigh much and perhaps too much. What might be interesting is the question wether it is possible to be served by the high temperature and the very high pressure of the lower atmosphere - by the temperature like hot air is serving a balloon and by the pressure like the pressure of our oceans is serving a ship. Sounds like a quite new question for the future if NASA wants to send something similar like the Mars rovers to Venus.

TJ, there is one reason excluding any possibility to terraform Venus: One day on Venus is as long as 243 days on earth! Only the venusian atmosphere is rotating in 24 hours. It might be possible to settle on Venus a way similar to what I proposed - but leave Venus as it is else there will be no possibility to settle and live there.



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Post    Posted on: Tue Aug 03, 2004 11:34 pm
Ekkehard Augustin wrote:
TJ, there is one reason excluding any possibility to terraform Venus: One day on Venus is as long as 243 days on earth! Only the venusian atmosphere is rotating in 24 hours. It might be possible to settle on Venus a way similar to what I proposed - but leave Venus as it is else there will be no possibility to settle and live there.



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I don't know, thousands of gigantic fusion powered atmosphere plants firing the atmosphere into space in order to move the planet in a better orbit could be angled to spin it up as well. :P

Although that is a bit on the impractical side with todays tech you simply do not know what the future can bring. 200 years ago modern skyscrapers were an impossibility today we have cities full of them. It might make an interesting 'thought experiment' as to how many super sized fusion thrusters would actually be needed and at what thrust to actually move a planet such as Venus without destroying it or the thrusters. That at least could be done with enough computers and programmers.


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Post    Posted on: Thu Aug 05, 2004 12:00 pm
The question of the so-called terraforming of planets or moons is to be separated into at least two sub-questions I think: The first question is "What can be done in our times by our technologies to live on Venus, Mars, the Galileian Moons of Jupiter and Titan?" - the second question is "What way these other planets and moons can be made earth-like?".

The second question is "Think big" - the first question is "start small".

Both questions are relevant and important.

Concerning private space travels and missions and the search for sources of their future market success the first question is providing sources of success. Mining on other planets doesn't require terraforming but might be providing profit one day - and profit is necessary for private spacetravel and private space travel firms and for space access of the general public.

This way the first question might assist the search for answers to the second question.

But concerning sudden changes of a planet's rotation scientists (geologists for example) are saying that this would cause giant destructions of surface structures because of the forces working. Thrusts will be the wrong methods - there would have to be a continuiously push instead.



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