Elon Musk from SpaceX can imagine a nuclear device that acts like an artificial sun on Mars for its long-term terraforming plans, but NASA finally disagrees with its proposals and those of others for the planet. With this in mind, scientists at Harvard University have conducted a study using silica airgel to create regionally terraformed parts of the planet. Their results were recently published in Nature Astronomy.
NASA's message is clear: the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) that would be needed to heat Mars enough to provide the atmospheric pressure required for human survival is not present on the red planet.
"Transforming the inhospitable Martian environment into a place that astronauts could explore without life support is not possible without technology beyond current capabilities," NASA concluded in a press release last year on the issue of converting our neighbor on the next Earth. “Our results suggest that there is not enough CO2 (carbon dioxide) left on Mars to provide significant warming in the greenhouse where the gas is put into the atmosphere; In addition, most of the CO2 gas is not accessible and could not be easily mobilized. As a result, terraforming Mars is not possible with current technology. "
Harvard scientists who published the recent study, on the other hand, have proposed a solution to this problem by exchanging a worldwide terraforming strategy for a local one. By covering certain areas of the Martian surface with a thin layer of silica airgel, that is, areas with large amounts of ice water, sufficient sunlight will be heated and combined with natural heating processes below the surface to create an environment potentially habitable
"Specifically, we demonstrate through experiments and models that under the environmental conditions of Mars, a layer of silica airgel 2–3 cm thick will simultaneously transmit enough visible light for photosynthesis, block dangerous ultraviolet radiation and raise temperatures below from it permanently above the melting point of the water, without the need for any internal heat source, "is detailed in the study summary.
Once the temperatures were adequate, the gases released from the ice in the lakes and the regolith (soil) would accumulate to form a pressurized atmosphere under the airgel layer. If successful until then, microbes and plant life could theoretically survive. "Placing silica airgel shields in regions sufficiently rich in ice on the Martian surface could allow photosynthetic life to survive there with minimal subsequent intervention," the scientists suggested. This photosynthetic life would continue to produce oxygen for the most demanding inhabitants of the Earth.
In addition to proposing the use of heat capture properties of airgel silica, the research team also conducted tests using environmental factors that mimicked those of Mars. Their results so far indicate that heating beyond the required temperature for liquid water would be readily available to be implemented as needed under the airgel. These results are promising, but many more tests and on-site investigations will also be necessary to prove the concept.
While NASA's findings published last year seem to frustrate SpaceX's dream of eventually terraforming Mars (to see the full picture, see its cup of transformative coffee), this latest effort shows that all options are not yet out of the table. Perhaps if subsequent studies and tests by the Harvard team positively demonstrate the potential of their idea of silica airgel habitat, the small regions of the entire planet could resemble the most ideal places on Earth, very similar to the Earth itself.
Would these areas be similar to bubble cities and bubble parks? Would the airgel cover geodetic structures, as seen in many other concepts of Martian colonies? Even if all the answers are not yet, the enthusiasm for finding answers is exciting.