Atmospheric alteration may make mars habitable

Atmospheric alteration may make mars habitable

Several similarities to earth such as same rotational period, presence of icy polar caps, comparable day time temperatures, and the like have led to suggestions that mars could host future potential human colonies.

For the same reason mars was long thought to host some form of life and fifty odd spacecrafts were launched over the years to explore its terrain. Currently many spacecraft are indeed studying the planet both from the orbit and on the martian surface.

Indeed Mars-ONE and similar projects hope to begin unmanned cargo flights to mars in 2018 to establish necessary infra-structure, with the first settlers landing as early as 2024. Over seven hundred applicants are there for the competition for the trip to establish a colony with entrepreneurs like Richard Branson wanting to populate mars! But the ambient conditions on mars are a far cry from our familiar terrestrial habitats.

To begin with, the atmosphere on mars has a density hardly one percent that of the earth. However most of it, as much as ninety five percent, is carbon dioxide,
nitrogen being three percent and argon two percent. On earth carbon dioxide,
although rising, constitutes only about 300 parts in a million, implying that the total mass of carbon dioxide in the entire earth atmosphere is around two terratons! So even with one-percent density of the terrestrial atmosphere, since carbon dioxide dominates in mars, it turns out that surprisingly (allowing for the fact that the Martian diameter is a little more than half of that of earth), the total quantity (or mass) of carbon dioxide on mars is actually substantially more than on the earth.

A calculation gives about ten terratons or ten trillion tons! This is a few times more than that in earth atmosphere. However, the martian atmosphere is too thin for this to cause much global warming. The oxygen in the mars atmosphere is completely negligible. There have been suggestions to convert the Martian carbon dioxide to oxygen. A carbon dioxide interacting chemically with hydrogen can produce methane and oxygen.

The reactions can easily be written down. The hydrogen can be obtained from water in the Martian polar caps. To convert one trillion tons of carbon dioxide to oxygen requires about half a terraton of water. Even if mars has only one millionth of earth’s water content, all the carbon dioxide can be converted to oxygen ultimately. Of course, initially the processes would be restricted to local colonies which could store the oxygen, use methane for fuel and also use the carbon dioxide in the inflatable greenhouses heated by concentrating solar energy with mirrors.

Oxygen can also be released from the peroxides known to be present on the
Martian surface as first revealed by the Viking Landers (in 1976), even leading to a false alarm (about life being detected) owing to the oxygen released by the heating of the peroxide! The flux of solar energy on mars is about six hundred Watts per square metre, raising the possibility of using it (with concentration devices) for running fuel cells with hydrogen being released as a byproduct among other things. The quest for water would be paramount for future Martian space probes since melting of permafrost (below the soil) could provide liquid water. A number of colonies over a period of several decades could alter the Ares (Greek for mars atmosphere).

In this context that the Argonauts led by Jason (in Greek mythology) in their hunt for the Golden Fleece sowed the  field of Ares with dragon teeth from which sprouted armed warriors ready for battle. The Argonauts were saved by Medea who suggested that a stone be thrown into the center of the field which made the warriors rush to the center and destroy each other. Hope our future astronauts fare better.

Recent studies on earth analysing chromium oxides in ancient sediments (all over the world) have indicated initial oxygen levels on earth (the first two billion years) was hardly one tenth of a percent of what it is today. This is relevant for future oxidising of the Arean atmosphere.

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