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Mars, Earth's ultimate liferaft?

17 April 2014

New data about the history of the red planet has been gleaned from the observation of ancient meteorite craters on the surface.

Based on these observations, scientists believe that the Mars has never been particularly warm or wet -- at least not for any extended period of time. Its atmosphere has also always been relatively thin.

The density of the atmosphere has been established by analysing the size of the craters which cover its surface and rely on the fact that the minimum size of impact is related to that density. A thicker atmosphere tends to burn up small meteors before they reach the surface, a thinner atmosphere allows those small rocks to penetrate and create surface-impact craters.

So it's increasingly looking as if Mars has never had any significant life -- but perhaps it could in the future.

Given that there is a reasonable amount of CO2 on the planet, often seen in solid form around the polar regions, perhaps a degree of teraforming may be possible.

Huge amounts of oxygen appear to be locked up in oxides on the planet's surface and these could also be liberated to help promote a teraforming process.

If we can produce the Mars equivalent of the global warming that we're supposedly seeing on Earth, it is possible (although improbable perhaps) that we could significantly increase the atmospheric density and the amount of the sun's heat retained under that blanket.

With a sufficiently aggressive approach, and perhaps the discovery of underground water reserves, there is always the faint possibility that Mars could be transformed into a habitable planet.

But why would we want to invest so much money, effort and resources into such a crazy project?

Well it's starting to look very much as if we're treating this planet as a disposable resource.

We're chewing through its natural resources and energy stores (fossil fuels) at a completely unsustainable rate. What's more, we're doing immense and possibly irreversible damage to the ecosphere -- damage that could render the planet far less habitable in the surprisingly near future.

If we're going to have anywhere to go, once we've turned the earth in to an exhausted smoldering shell, we better start making plans very, very soon.

Of course there is just no way we'd be able to relocate the Earth's population to Mars, even if we could turn it into a place capable of supporting life. Our best hope would be to plant the seeds of human life and preserve the future of the species.

However, if we're going to do this then we really need to start this far-fetched teraforming process now, while we still can.

Given the incredibly limited resources we could bring to bear on the surface of Mars, the process would take a very, very long time to have any effect -- so there's no time to lose, perhaps.

Perhaps covering the polar regions with some kind of dark dust that might absorb more solar radiation and stop CO2 from freezing would be a start. Even a few tonnes of the right material could cover a huge swathe of the surface and have some effect.

Unfortunately, the amount of money and resources required to even start such an undertaking is mind-boggling beyond anything we have available at the moment so, for the time being, this is nothing more than pie in the sky.

One day however, driven by the certainty of our own demise on this planet, we may find ourselves emigrating across the darkness of space to a world we have resuscitated from the cold and airless state we presently see on Mars.

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