TAQueries: Terraforming Mars

There is no quick way to convert carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to molecular oxygen. But, the best option we have is… life!

Earth Earth’s surface, as though to have been 2 to 3 billion years ago. Image Credit: Ron Miller

When you look back through time at Earth’s history, you’ll find that in Earth’s earliest days, it’s atmosphere was mostly CO2. Clearly, today our atmosphere is composed largely of nitrogen and oxygen. So what changed? What happened to all that CO2? Well… about 2.3 billion years ago plant life arrived on Earth and, through photosynthesis, it began to convert all of the CO2 into molecular oxygen, or O2. As a result of this, you’re now breathing ancient oxygen molecules. Artificially converting CO2 to O2 is difficult and requires a lot of energy, but we can use the same natural processes that gave rise to animal life here on Earth to our advantage.

We had performed multiple experiments in laboratories on Earth and we know that crops can in fact grow on Martian soil. There are a couple of problems, however.

  • Sun’s Radiation – Due to the thinness of Mars’ atmosphere, a lot of radiation form the Sun has no issues getting to Mars’ surface. This creates a problem because most of the plant life on Earth hadn’t evolved to withstand high radiation environments.
  • Mars’ Surface Temperature – The surface temperature on mars can range anywhere between -125 degrees C to 20 degrees C, depending on the season and the time of day. These temperature swings are far too great for any plant life to endure.

Now… building protective structures on Mars would be unimaginably expensive with our current technology, so this option is automatically a no-no. But there are ways in which we can adjust Mars’ climate so that it is forgiving enough to allow life to flourish. I’m talking about… GIANT EXPLOSIONS!!!

Yessss… this was my evil masterplan all along! hehe.

Destruction can sometimes lead to good things (please don’t use this as an excuse to wreck everything in your sight lol). Seriously though, to thicken Mars’ atmosphere and raise and stabilise its temperature, we have 2 viable options, both of which are possible with our current technology.

We can either, drop thermonuclear weapons around Mars’ ice caps, or we can crash an asteroid into its surface. Such catastrophic events have the potential to significantly change a world’s climate and, therefore, allow us to begin converting Mars’ carbon dioxide into oxygen by bringing Earth’s plant life to Mars. This process will take thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of years. But it will ultimately allow us to build permanent settlements on Mars and make humans a multi-planet species.

Not quite the answer you were looking for? Be sure to let me know via email: theastrophysicist@hotmail.com or by tweeting at me @ThomasMoszczuk




    1. Unlike Earth, Mars has a “swarm” of miniaturised magnetic fields. They’re very centralised, electromagnetic hotspots, if you like. Areas with reduced radiation. If the atmosphere is thickened, and we find a way to stabilise this thickness, these would probably be the areas where humans would settle.

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