A group of scientists have devised a plan to make Mars a little more hospitable to human life.
A computer modeling experiment suggests that we can use a spacecraft to create a magnetic field around Mars, shielding it from the solar wind that’s stripping its thin atmosphere away, oxygen ion by oxygen ion.
If the plan works — and that’s a big “if,” it could melt the red planet’s polar ice caps to bring back some liquid water to the Martian surface for the first time in billions of years.
“It has been estimated that nearly one-seventh of the ancient ocean of Mars is trapped in the frozen polar cap,” the abstract for the proposal, which was presented at NASA’s Planetary Science Vision 2050 Workshop last week, reads.
Billions of years ago, Mars had plenty of liquid water on its surface, but the small world has since lost much of its atmosphere due to the solar wind shot out by the sun, becoming the cold, dry world we now see today.
According to the proposal, by sending a magnetic field-creating spacecraft out to a stable point in orbit beyond Mars, it could help shield the planet from the worst effects of the solar wind and prevent it from stripping the atmosphere.
From there, Mars’ atmospheric pressure could bounce back somewhat.
If the plan does succeed, “Mars may once again become a more Earth-like habitable environment,” the paper adds.
This plan isn’t what you typically think of as terraforming — remaking a planet’s atmosphere to make it livable for humans.
Instead, the atmosphere would effectively remake itself as the world’s atmosphere is given a break from the constant bombardment of solar wind.
“We let nature do it [change the climate of Mars],” NASA’s Jim Green, who presented the experiment at the conference last week, said.
Creating this type of magnetic barrier would make it slightly easier for scientists to explore the not-too-distant world with the help of robotic helpers.
This experiment has its limitations. While computer modeling is a good option in place of practical experiments, it also means that this kind of mission is far from a sure thing.
At the moment, NASA has a fair number of robotic emissaries already roaming around on and above the red planet.
The agency’s Maven spacecraft actually helped confirm that Mars’ atmosphere was stripped off by the solar wind billions of years ago, and the Curiosity rover helped researchers figure out that the red world was once habitable for microbial life in Gale crater.
In the coming decades, NASA is planning to work toward sending people to orbit the red planet and eventually even land on it, bringing humanity to a brand new world.