Newer worlds, a new hope

There is increased activity taking place in space exploration and formulation of plans to find habitable planets away from the earth. The speeding pace may be because of improvements in technology, soaring imagination or growing impatience with the state of life on the earth. It is human nature to think of migration to better pastures when life becomes more and more difficult. Increasing intolerance, violence and shrinking prospects of good life on the earth may act subconsciously on humans to look for newer worlds. The recent discovery of seven planets which may have conditions similar to those on the earth about 40 light years away from our solar system gave hopes of finding life there. But the hope is too far, and a nearer place may offer more possibilities, though these too involve harnessing of outlandish ideas and use of technologies which still look fanciful. Nasa’s plan to create an artificial magnetic
field around Mars to make it habitable is one such idea.

Mars is the earth’s close planetary neighbour but all plans for living there or even exploring it have been constrained by the fact that it has no atmosphere. Most of its atmosphere has been stripped away by fierce solar winds. The creation of a magnetic field would lead to the emergence of an environment which would otherwise not happen in 700 million years. Nasa aims to implement plans for this by 2050 and thinks that it may be possible to simulate an atmospheric field comparable to the earth’s in a matter of years. Creation of a hospitable atmosphere and climate on Mars would be a great achievement. But it should be noted that the idea is still only a gleam in the eye and it would take a lot more than what is technologically possible now to make it happen. What makes it special is that Nasa’s planetary science division director Jim Green has revealed it in public and that gives it some respectability and credibility.

“The solar system is ours, let’s take it’’, Green said. The statement is ambitious and may sound arrogant and selfish to many, who would remember human colonisation narratives on the earth in past centuries. We should know that even the earth is not ours. The conquest of Mars, if and when it takes place, is best not seen as a colonial project, though there are no Red Indians or Eskimos there. Ironically, science fiction had imagined green-eyed monsters from the red planet launching an attack on the earth, which survived with its humans with the help of the humble microbe. The hurry to migrate, however, is real, and there can be surprises.

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