Mars Impact Theory: Terraform Mars For A Few Billion Dollars
It looks like interest in terraforming Mars has returned in recent years. I recently saw a video from NASA in which they cited popular ideas for terraforming Mars, but Mars Impact Theory wasn’t one of them. The following is the most economical proposal for terraforming Mars. Mars Impact Theory addresses all of the shortfalls of the proposals NASA is publicly considering. I came up with the following in 2007 while attending the University of North Florida, where I shared it with the astronomy and physics departments. Unfortunately, my proposal was considered too risky by the astronomy department, as it could result in collateral damage to Earth.
Mars has a resource that no one else has considered harnessing for use a tool for terraformation. In fact, most would consider this resource to be more of a liability of than an asset. I am, of course, referring to near-passer-by asteroids… and the merits of using nuclear warheads to alter said asteroids’ trajectories as to cause impact events with Mars
I first arrived at the idea while sipping a Heineken and watching a television show that featured some of the competing theories on how our moon came into existence. One of the theories was that an asteroid had struck Earth, sending debris into an orbit around the planet, with these debris eventually consolidating into a body we now call the moon. An externality of such an impact would be the rendering of Earth into a giant ball of magma, with thousands of years having to pass before the surface cooled enough for the tectonic plates to form again.
I had been studying proposals for terraforming Mars since the mid 1990s, and had been grappling with their shortcomings… and sitting on my parents’ couch watching that show, the pieces fell together: I had arrived at Mars Impact Theory
We need to turn Mars into a giant ball of magma! You might ask why anyone who wants to permanently colonize Mars would do this. The answer is one word, something that none of the other proposals address, save one (granted with shortcomings that I will later describe). This one word is the most critical variable of sustaining long-term human colonization of Mars: MAGNETOSPHERE.
Here’s how it works:
- Make a catalog of Mar’s near-passer-by asteroids.
- Identify those which would require the least nudging with hydrogen bombs to trigger collision paths with Mars
- After selecting an asteroid for redirection, calculate the time, coordinates, and explosive yield required to make the asteroid an impact event with Mars.
- Launch a multi-stage rocket from earth, with the probe bearing the nuclear warhead being the last stage of the rocket (in 2007, as now, the best candidate for final stage propulsion would be an ion drive… a proven concept already used to deliver probes to asteroids by NASA in recent years), and detonate at the appointed time and point in space.
- If the asteroid misses Mars, fragments into buckshot, or if the impact energy proves insufficient to turn Mars into a that proverbial great ball of of fire, go back to step 2. Rinse and repeat until Mars has melted to the core.
Here’s why we just did that:
– Mar’s core, at present day, has cooled to the point that the materials it contains are not moving fast enough to produce the magnetic induction that provides a planet with a magnetosphere. Assuming we followed steps one through five, we have just heated up Mar’s core, and added to its mass, namely with the materials that asteroids are primarily composed of: iron and nickle. Note, these two elements are what swirls around in currents at Earth’s core and, in their excited (heated) state, provide the only thing keeping the solar wind from blowing Earth’s atmosphere away, the magnetosphere, a magnetic deflector shield (yes, like the one around the Enterprise in Star Trek). Aside from keeping the solar wind from literally blowing our atmosphere away, the magnetosphere is what diverts almost all of the sun’s radiation around the planet. That’s right, the magnetosphere, and not the ozone layer, is the main thing standing between you and becoming a crispy critter, although the ozone does help filter out much of the radiation that does get through the magnetosphere.
-All those gasses frozen on Mar’s pole and under the surface just got released into the atmosphere. Elon Musk’s proposal to detonate thermonuclear bombs above the pole, while bold, would not only lead to that gases just being blown away by the solar wind after they were released into the atmosphere, it would also irradiate the planet’s surface. My idea is better, as almost all of the radiation released by the re-directional blasts would diffuse in space, far from Earth and Mars. We have just liberated all the gasses and water on Mars into the atmosphere.
-After several thousand years, the surface of Mars would cool enough for the tectonic plates to form again. After that, the atmosphere would cool to the point where, if present in sufficient quantities, water would form clouds and fall to the surface in liquid form.
-And just like all other proposals, we then send in blue-green algae to convert a large portion of the CO2 into oxygen.
Let’s review the advantages of Mars Impact Theory over other proposals:
-With a hotter, larger, molten core, Mars would once again have a magnetosphere strong enough to divert most of the solar radiation and solar wind. With the magnetosphere now preventing most of the solar radiation from reaching the planet’s surface, we would have eliminated the need for encounter suits when we walking on Mar’s surface; we might only need oxygen tanks and masks to walk the surface, with our skin in direct contact with the Martian atmosphere during the day time.
– With the magnetoshpere properly functioning, that atmosphere we just liberated from below the surface wouldn’t be blown away by the solar winds.
-Between the deployment of a few nuclear warheads on probes in space, and the sending of the algae-disbursing probe for detonation like a conventional cluster bomb far above the surface of Mars thousands of years later, we are talking about only a few billion dollars in costs to the American taxpayer.
– The core would remain hot enough to facilitate the magnetic induction that creates the magnetosphere for most of the remainder of our Sun’s useful life. In other words, by the time the core cooled enough to cause deflector shield failure, the sun would be reaching the point in its life-cycle when the ratio of hydrogen to helium its core would prohibit the continuity of life anywhere but the outer solar system.
Let’s review why we should go with Mars Impact Theory, and not the other proposals:
– The only other proposal to address the issue of rejuvenating the magnetosphere is far less cost effective. That proposal calls for drilling holes to near the center of Mars, and lowering dozens to hundreds of nuclear warheads to within close proximity of the core, and then detonating them. This would leave Mars with materially higher radiation levels than my Mars Impact Theory proposal, and cost TRILLIONS of dollars for that phase of the plan alone (drilling equipment, life support and supplies for the technicians who drill, and the cost of the warheads themselves). Mars Impact theory calls for spending no more than a few BILLION dollars for the heating phase. This other proposal also doesn’t liberate frozen water and gas from the surface, which would then in turn cost a prohibitive amount of time and resources to liberate.
– Another popular proposal is to incrementally terraform Mars. This plan calls for sending (millions of?) tons of equipment to Mars for the erection of what I call ‘bubble’ colonies. These would look like the hemispherical structures used to house satellite communications equipment in hostile environments like Antarctica. Some of these colonies would be placed atop potential mineral resources, and used as mining colonies. Other bubble colonies would be placed in close proximity to deposits of frozen greenhouse gasses and water ice (note, at the time I first wrote Mars Impact Theory, the existence of H20 in higher than trace amounts on Mars had not been proven). The drawbacks of this proposal are obvious: no magnetosphere protection, prohibitive amount of time to liberate atmosphere, impossible economic costs, and no leaving the bubble without a space suit for the colonists. With no magnetosphere, the structures would have to be lined with lead to protect colonists from radiation, and liberated atmosphere would be slowly bled away by the solar wind.
Note: The angle at which the redirected asteroid(s) strike Mars is crucial. A strike from a redirected asteroid counter to the orbit of Mars around the sun would provide something like four times the impact energy (aka heating) as an asteroid which strikes Mars sideways relative to Mar’s orbital path around the sun.
Note: I never did find anyone to help me calculate whether random walk and Mar’s relatively low escape velocity would still lead to a slow bleeding of the atmosphere, and whether that bleeding would be offset by the average amount of atmosphere that would be gained per year from meteor absorption.
If you liked my post, ask me about:
-Mars Atmospheric Enrichment. It’s the same principle, except we’d be talking meteors.
-Mars as assembly point for colonization ships destined for deep space (assuming propulsion technology reaches a point where we can reach escape velocity from the solar system with that size of a ship). This idea is based around Earth’s high escape velocity relative to Mars; we would require much less fuel for sky-cranes (giant vehicles carrying ship components for assembly in orbit) being launched from Mars than we would if we built a deep-space colonial ship in orbit around higher-gravity Earth. Why waste resources?