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Would it be possible for humans to live on Mars? There are many reasons why Mars would be an ideal candidate world for human colonization. The day length and axial tilt are similar to Earth. It has many of the resources that a human colony would need to survive, and it’s relatively close to Earth compared to the rest of the Solar System. But then, it can be extremely cold, with dangerous radiation from space and a poisonous thin atmosphere. Living on Mars would be a challenge to say the least.
First, the good stuff. Mars is located only a little further from Earth. This means it still gets quite a bit of energy from the Sun, and temperatures can rise as high as 20 °C in the heat of summer. It has large reserves of water in the form of ice, and many other chemicals and minerals in the soil that humans could use to create air, rocket fuel and even building materials. The Martian day is only a little longer than an Earth day, and its axial tilt is very similar too. Plants from Earth would probably be able to adjust to the longer growing day.
Here’s the bad stuff. Mars is still really far away. A journey to Mars takes about 10 months, and the two planets only line up properly every 2 years. The atmosphere is almost entirely carbon dioxide, and it’s only 1% as thick as the Earth’s atmosphere at sea level. You wouldn’t be able to breathe it, and it would actually cause your skin damage if you tried to walk outside without a spacesuit. The temperatures on Mars are usually incredibly cold, dipping down to -100 °C, at night, even at the equator. And finally, Mars doesn’t have a protective magnetosphere to channel radioactive particles away from the surface of the planet. Anyone living on the surface of Mars would get large doses of radiation over time.
But the technology required to actually live on Mars is within our current technology. All it takes is the money, and some volunteers willing to risk everything a start a new life on a new planet.
If you’d like more information on people trying to colonize Mars, check out the homepage for the Mars Society.
We’ve also recorded several episodes of Astronomy Cast about missions to Mars. Check out Episode 94: Humans to Mars, Part 1.
NASA: Possibility of Colonizing Mars