A Day in the Life of a Living Mars

Back in January we posted some intriguing images showing concepts of what a terraformed “living Mars” might look like from orbit. With a bit of creative license, software engineer Kevin Gill turned the Red Planet into its own version of the Blue Marble. He’s now created an animation showing a rotating Mars and compressed 24 hours to one minute.

Kevin explains how he did the animation:

The base two dimensional elevation model was generated using data from the Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter aboard the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft and satellite imagery from the Blue Marble Next Generation project. Sea level was set non-scientifically, but such that it would flood much of Valles Marineris as well as provide shoreline near the cliffs on the outer edges of Olympus Mons. The clouds are straight from NASA’s Blue Marble NG project and height mapped (rather arbitrarily, but looks good) by relative opacity (The more opaque a point, the higher up in the atmosphere I put it). This was rendered using a digital elevation modeling program I am writing, jDem846, with some extras baked in through its scripting interface, and encoded to video with ffmpeg. Because I defaulted to Earth-based time, each frame is about one minute in time over twenty-four hours.

Kevin told us that this project was “something that I did both out of curiosity of what it would look like and to improve the software I was rendering this in,” he said via email. “I am a software engineer by trade and certainly no planetary scientist, so with the exception of any parts derived from actual data, most of it is assumptions I made based on simply comparing the Mars terrain to similar features here on Earth (e.g. elevation, proximity to bodies of water, physical features, geographical position, etc) and then using the corresponding textures from the Blue Marble images to paint the flat image layer in a graphics program.”

This is a fun and thought-provoking look at what Mars may have looked in the past … or if things had worked out just a little differently in our Solar System!

12 Replies to “A Day in the Life of a Living Mars”

  1. I’m all for the colonization of Mars. But I would be totally against destroying the natural environment of Mars. Mars in its current beautiful. So I guess you might say that I believe in a Red Mars.

    Marcel Williams

    1. Papyrus, indeed. That is as nonsensical a notion as I’ve heard in weeks. Well, maybe except for the UFO sightings, maybe.

      WTF, is the ‘natural environment’ of Mars?. Molten after formation, wet with water and a thick atmosphere, covered in carbon dioxide snow and a thin atmosphere, spin axis 90 degrees to orbital plane, dryer than any bone, impacted by dozens of 100km diameter bolides, or swallowed by a swollen Red Giant of a sun, 5 billion years hence? Mars has been, or will be, all of these things. Every one is “natural”.

      The environment of Mars will be whatever we decide it will be (assuming we don’t kill ourselves off first).

    2. Advanced robotics build Mars and Phobos research habitats. Subsurface pure ice deposits are melted and electrolyzed into atmosphere and fuel. The useful consumables are transferred to ground storage and up to the Mars International Space Station.. Wouldn’t that be nice….? Perfectly parallel universes anyone?

  2. He is far from the first person to do this. I did this for the free open source astronomy program Celestia years ago. This is nothing really new, he just happens to be the one that got noticed. He needs to work on his colors and there other things he is not taking into account. Mars being a smaller planet it would have fewer Hadley cells running the weather systems, so the cloud patterns would not be quiet Earth like. In fact the weather systems would look similar only larger. Think of the size of a hurricane on the Earth and then translate that to Mars keeping the size in place. A smaller planet doesn’t mean you get miniature versions of Earth weather. A Terraformed Mars would actually be a very scary place to live. Thunderstorms would be much bigger and much more destructive than here. We think that softball size hail is bad, try basketball size hail stones falling the sky. Another thing that is a variable that can’t be predicted is erosion. With all that water, rain and ice Mars would not even look like this. It would look like an entirely different planet. Most of the things we see there now would be gone. The volcanoes would erode away as would all the craters. As you can tell I am only hitting the tip of the iceberg so to speak and at least did allot of research into the feasibility of terraforming the planet, in the end I think we should just leave things alone and adapt to what is there. Doming Crater would be fine but other that keep it as is.

    1. I don’t know about that. Much of Earth’s weather is driven by energy from the sun, and changing seasons. Since there is less sunlight, and slower seasons, on Mars it’s just as reasonable to expect weather events to be gentler than here. I’m not even sure you’re right about the Hadley cells; they are caused by the temperature differential between equator and ~30degrees north or south. Since the distance between the equator and 30 degrees is smaller on Mars, couldn’t the Hadley cells also be smaller on Mars? Actually, there’s no simple way of knowing because the temperature differential between land and ocean also plays a role and Mars would have the northern hemisphere mostly ocean and the southern mostly land, very unlike Earth. So who knows how the Hadley cells would behave? And who knows how weather systems in an atmosphere of Earthlike temperature and composition, but less solar irradiation and less gravity, would work? The “research” you’ve done is almost certainly just as much guesswork as Kevin Gill’s. In the end though, the place is a desolate and probably sterile wasteland, and we can hardly make it worse by trying to terraform it, so why not go for it?

  3. Looks like a world waiting for legends to happen ..

    If we could grab one of suitably sized asteroids, move it to Mars and make it into a moon to restart Mars’ core and magnetic field, place could look like that quite soon, well, soon …

  4. This ain’t gonna happen. Maybe I should qualify this by saying I think it is extremely improbable that we will terraform Mars. The energy and scale of such an undertaking is beyond our abilities. If nothing else, during the medieval period at least humans would be willing to take a century to build a cathedral. Today we operate on micro-second computer stock trades, twitter feeds and a general “gotta have it now” fast food culture. Terraforming Mars would be a multi-century or millennial process involving the manipulation of energy and materials on a scale millions of times larger than what we work with today.

    Maybe there is some small probability that Mars in the distant past looked like this. The big question is whether biology on Mars ever reached a level of advancement so there would have been the green cover depicted here.


  5. “The earth does not belong to us. We belong to the earth.” ? Chief Seattle of the Suquamish Tribe, (1780-1866).

    Humans dream of Terra-forming another planet: to turn a desolate alien wilderness into another “Eden”-home. Flight of fancy may be. Or height of arrogance to seize: Man, boldly assuming right to lay claim on another planet of night. Aspiration to explore the terrains of Earth’s neighbor, dig into its ancient past, and search-out its hidden history – to read its world-book – is one thing. But to venture settler’s claim on another world, in order to take possession, and inhabit a reworked globe, might be quite another.

    An international endeavor? The “Federation” of nations ideal? Though first landfalls could so unfurl, a hard headwind of recurring reality would probably blow-in from the red sands to fields turned-green, and tear-away lingering unity into strips of fluttering nationalist banner. Generating competitive friction, heated into confrontational rivalries? Which, in far-flung future, could explode into Martian Wars! Similar to the regional, even global Earth-wars, which convulsively preceded the establishment, and settlement of the European Colonial Empires of Age gone by. From initial fleet embarkations on interplanetary journey, to “New World” shores of permanent settlement, could people of the nations leave their human nature behind them, buried in “Old World” soils?

    Would we even be qualified to undertake such future herculean task, when we have thus far, proven a failure to manage, “to tend and keep”, the only World we presently have?

    Whether we like it or not, “We belong to the earth”, for from it we came. For now, our mortal destiny and temporal fate, is there-bound.

    1. “The earth does not belong to us. We belong to the earth.” quote commonly attributed to Chief Seattle is a lie. It was written for a documentary by Ted Perry.

      1. Thanks for the correction. Assumed source was accurate in authorship. Not the first time an Internet-source reveals sloppy attribution! Plain old-fashioned books, better, and more reliable, I think. Check – and recheck.

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