How we could make mars a livable planet


Before we can colonize Mars, the dry, desolate planet needs to be able to support life. Some scientists think that can be accomplished through terraforming — changing the planet's surface and climate to be human-friendly.

It might not be as difficult as it sounds. The planet's nutrient-rich soil, carbon monoxide energy sources and liquid water are key ingredients for life. Some researchers suggest all we really need to do is heat it up.

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Portions of the Martian surface shot by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter show many channels from 1 meter to 10 meters wide on a scarp in the Hellas impact basin, in this photograph taken January 14, 2011 and released by NASA March 9, 2011. Scientists have found the first evidence that briny water may flow on the surface of Mars during the planet's summer months, a paper published on Monday showed. Researchers found telltale fingerprints of salts that form only in the presence of water in narrow channels cut into cliff walls throughout the planet's equatorial region. REUTERS/NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona/Handout FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
Dark, narrow, 100 meter-long streaks on Mars inferred to have been formed by contemporary flowing water are seen in an image produced by NASA, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and the University of Arizona. Scientists have found the first evidence that briny water may flow on the surface of Mars during the planet's summer months, a paper published on Monday showed. NASA/JPL/University of Arizona/Handout THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS
Dark narrow streaks called recurring slope lineae emanating out of the walls of Garni crater on Mars are seen in an image produced by NASA, Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and the University of Arizona. Scientists have found the first evidence that briny water may flow on the surface of Mars during the planet's summer months, a paper published on Monday showed. NASA/JPL/University of Arizona/Handout THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS
A circular depression on the surface of Mars is pictured in his image acquired on Jan. 5, 2015 by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), provided by NASA. The spacecraft has been orbiting Mars since March 2006 and completed its 40,000th orbit around Mars on Feb. 7, 2015. REUTERS/NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/Handout
NASA's Mars rover Curiosity's hole drilled into a rock target, "Cumberland," on Mars on May 19, 2013 is shown in this NASA photo. NASA?s Mars rover Curiosity has found carbon-containing compounds in samples drilled out of an ancient rock, the first definitive detection of organics on the surface of Earth?s neighbor planet, scientists said on Tuesday. REUTERS/NASA/Handout (OUTER SPACE - Tags: SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity is shown in this handout photo released to Reuters July 29, 2014. Opportunity has set a new off-Earth, off-road distance record, logging just over 25 miles (40 km) on the surface of the Red Planet to surpass the old benchmark set in 1973 by a Russian probe on the moon. REUTERS/NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./Arizona State University/Handout (UNITED STATES - Tags: SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
This image from the right Mast Camera (Mastcam) of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover shows rough spherical features on the surface of the planet in an area called 'Yellowknife Bay' in this NASA handout released January 15, 2013. These features are interpreted as concretions, implying they formed in water that percolated through pores in the sediment. Spherical concretions have previously been discovered in other rocks on Mars. REUTERS/NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/Handout (OUTERSPACE - Tags: SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY ENVIRONMENT) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
An image from the Mast Camera (Mastcam) on NASA's Mars rover Curiosity shows the surface of the planet with inclined layering known as cross-bedding in an outcrop called "Shaler" on a scale of a few tenths of a meter, or decimeters (1 decimeter is nearly 4 inches) in this NASA handout released January 15, 2013. REUTERS/NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/Handout (OUTERSPACE - Tags: SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY ENVIRONMENT) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
The surface of the planet Mars inside Gale's Crater is shown as NASA's Mars rover Curiosity drives toward a flat rock with pale veins that may hold clues to a wet history on the planet in this NASA handout photo released January 15, 2013. If the rock meets rover engineers' approval when Curiosity rolls up to it in coming days, it will become the first to be drilled for a sample during the Mars Science Laboratory mission. REUTERS/NASA/Handout (OUTERSPACE - Tags: SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY ENVIRONMENT) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
NASA's Mars Science Laboratory rover Curiosity appears as a bluish dot near the lower right corner of this enhanced-color view from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter taken on June 27, 2013 and released on July 24, 2013. The rover's tracks are visible extending from the landing site, "Bradbury Landing," in the left half of the scene. Two bright, relatively blue spots surrounded by darker patches are where the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft's landing jets cleared away reddish surface dust at the landing site. REUTERS/NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona/Handout via Reuters (OUTER SPACE - Tags: ENVIRONMENT SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY) ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
A rock outcrop called Link pops out from a Martian surface in this NASA handout image taken by the 100-millimeter Mast Camera on NASA's Curiosity Mars rover September 2, 2012 and released September 27, 2012. Rounded gravel fragments, or clasts, up to a couple inches (few centimeters) in size are in a matrix of white material. The outcrop characteristics are consistent with a sedimentary conglomerate, or a rock that was formed by the deposition of water and is composed of many smaller rounded rocks cemented together. Scientists enhanced the color in this version to show the Martian scene as it would appear under the lighting conditions we have on Earth, which helps in analyzing the terrain. REUTERS/NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/Handout (UNITED STATES - Tags: SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY) THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS
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Carl Sagan proposed seeding Mars' polar ice caps with dark plants to absorb the sun's light and radiation. This could heat the planet and melt the polar caps, giving way to flowing liquid water on the Martian surface.

Aerospace engineer Robert Zubrin and planetary scientist Chris McKay suggested using orbital mirrors positioned near Mars' south pole to warm the surface.

SEE MORE: Mars' Toxic Surface May Prevent Humans From Living There

One team of researchers wants to hurl an ammonia-rich asteroid at Mars. Ammonia is a powerful greenhouse gas that might help raise the planet's global temperatures.

And Elon Musk suggested detonating nuclear explosives just above the planet to heat it up.

But the heat will only stay put if Mars' current atmosphere becomes more robust. Some scientists proposed building greenhouse gas-producing factories, which could thicken the atmosphere.

However, not all scientists agree terraforming Mars is a good idea. They argue that there might be some undetected microbial life that could be driven to extinction if we manipulate the planet's atmosphere and structure.

Other researchers argue we don't know enough about Mars yet to know the planet wouldn't just experience a "runaway greenhouse effect" like Venus and become too hot to support life.

So it's still too early to start pumping greenhouse gases into Mars and melt its ice caps. But given that NASA and some private industry partners have their sights set on Mars, humans are headed for the planet regardless.


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