Should We Terraform Mars?

Article written: 30 Dec , 2011
Updated: 3 Oct , 2016

As we continue to explore farther out into our solar system and beyond, the question of habitation or colonization inevitably comes up. Manned bases on the Moon or Mars for example, have long been a dream of many. There is a natural desire to explore as far as we can go, and also to extend humanity’s presence on a permanent or at least semi-permanent basis. In order to do this, however, it is necessary to adapt to different extreme environments. On the Moon for example, a colony must be self-sustaining and protect its inhabitants from the airless, harsh environment outside.

Mars, though, is different. While future bases could adapt to the Martian environment as well, there is also the possibility of modifying the surrounding environment instead of just co-existing with it. This is the process of terraforming – essentially trying to tinker with Mars’ atmosphere and environment to make it more Earth-like. Although still a long ways off technologically, terraforming the Red Planet is seen as a future possibility. Perhaps the bigger question is, should we?

One of the main issues is whether Mars has any indigenous life or not – how does this affect the question of colonization or terraforming?

If Mars does have any kind of biosphere, it should be preserved as much as possible. We still don’t know yet if any such biosphere exists, but the possibility, which has only increased based on recent discoveries, must be taken into account. Such a precious discovery, which could teach us immensely about how life arose on both worlds, should be completely off-limits. Small colonies might be fine, but living on Mars should not be at the expense of any native habitats, if they exist. The most likely place to find life on Mars is underground. If the surface is truly as sterile and barren as it seems to be, then colonies there shouldn’t be too much of a problem. It has also been suggested that Martian caves would make ideal human habitats, serving as natural protection from the harsh conditions on the surface. True, but if it turned out that something else was already taking up residence in them, then we should leave them alone. If Mars is home to  any indigenous life, then terraforming should be a non-issue.

What if Mars is lifeless? Even if no life otherwise exists there, that pristine and unique alien environment, so far barely scratched by humans, needs to be preserved as is as much as possible. We’ve already done too much damage here on our own planet. By studying Mars and other planets and moons in their current natural state, we can learn so much about their history and also learn more about our own world in that context. We should appreciate the differences in and variety of worlds instead of just transforming them to suit our own ambitions.

There is also the more current but related problem of contamination. There has been a long-standing protocol, via the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, to have all spacecraft going to the Moon or Mars sterilized as much as possible. If bacteria from Earth made it to the Martian surface and survived, it would complicate the search for life there; if a lander or rover was to later identify living organisms in the soil, it might be difficult to determine whether they were just contamination or true native life forms. From both a scientific and ethical perspective, it would seem prudent to try to protect Mars as much as we can from earthly intruders. This applies equally to whether Mars is already inhabited or not. Fortunately, for almost any kind of bacteria or other microrganisms from Earth, it would be very difficult if not impossible to survive on the Martian surface, nevermind flourish. The risk of planet-wide contamination is very negligible, but it is still better to take strict preventive measures than to play with chance.

See also this excellent paper by astrobiologist Chris McKay. Some different views from this article on whether Mars should be protected and preserved at all costs or altered to help life to flourish there, but is a good presentation of the current ideas being put on the table. From the summary:

“Planetary ecosynthesis on Mars is being seriously discussed within the field of planetary science. It appears that restoring a thick atmosphere on Mars and the recreation of an environment habitable to many forms of life is possible. It is important now to consider if it “should” be done. To do this takes us into new and interesting territory in environmental ethics but both utilitarian and intrinsic worth arguments support the notion of planetary ecosynthesis. Strict preservationism arguments do not. It is important to have the long-term view of life on Mars and the possibilities of planetary ecosynthesis. This affects how we explore Mars now. Mars may well be our first step out into the biological universe, it is a step we should take carefully.”


175 Responses

  1. Anonymous says

    If we can confirm that there is no indigenous life on Mars there really would be no reason other than for study to preserve its natural state. There is a difference in utility to be sure, if one decides to terraform, but there is nothing quantitative or qualitatively superior about preserving its natural state.

    • Anonymous says

      When people eventually travel to other planetary systems, they will encounter many worlds similar to Mars and Venus. The more they know about such worlds, the better their chances of successful colonization will be. For this reason, our long term survival is best secured by maintaining Mars and Venus as wilderness reserves for academic purposes. Rotating habitats built with asteroid materials provide ample opportunity for people to gain access to the resources of this solar system.

  2. Anonymous says

    If we can confirm that there is no indigenous life on Mars there really would be no reason other than for study to preserve its natural state. There is a difference in utility to be sure, if one decides to terraform, but there is nothing quantitative or qualitatively superior about preserving its natural state.

  3. Andrey says

    We can’t terraform it. It does not have magnetic field to protect the atmosphere from erosion. Mining colonies underground is best we will ever do with Mars.

    • Member
      Anonymous says

      Assuming we could create atmosphere, I’m confident we could eventually create it fast enough to outstrip any erosion. We wouldn’t need a magnetic field for that, though we might still have a problem with harmful rays…

    • Torbjörn Larsson says

      I think Robinson’s “Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars” series is pretty convincing here. Assuming his numbers are still realistic, a dense and long lived enough atmosphere is doable from sequestered Mars volatiles alone. No need for “The Martian Way” of ice mining Saturn’s rings!

      What collapsed the atmosphere was too little irradiation relative to the amount of volatiles setting up the usual greenhouse. Robinson presents all sorts of mitigations, from supportive solar mirrors to greenhouse freons that would keep a released atmosphere aloft.*

      He assumes a geologically active Mars to supply heat for volatile release though, and that may be likely but not certain as of yet.

      IIRC he suggested a lot of gene engineering to make his Mars early habitable, such as larger lungs and increased UV protection.

  4. Andrey says

    We can’t terraform it. It does not have magnetic field to protect the atmosphere from erosion. Mining colonies underground is best we will ever do with Mars.

  5. Anonymous says

    At 38% the graviyt of Earth I wonder what the medical implications would be.

  6. Member
    Anonymous says

    I think we should focus on reversing our current trend of unterraforming Earth before we think about terraforming other planets…

    • Torbjörn Larsson says

      We are increasing productivity, so we are still “manforming”. The problem is to keep at it for a certain amount of population. But it seems the next generation will see a maximum, and thereafter we can have a stabilization at some manageable level.

      • Anonymous says

        We oughtn’t assume that we’re entitled to the level of resources per capita that are used. Earth could be home to many more people if we could invest more wisely in our food choices and energy research. The future is not written

      • Anonymous says

        That is not entirely true, a prime example would be the amount of arable land and it’s proximity to population centers. I.e. the US produces far more produce than it can use but it is not only uneconomical to transport it to countries in need it would be environmentally irresponsible to ramp up transportation to that extent. 7 billion people is pretty close to the reasonable limit if you also want a reasonable standard of living.

      • Anonymous says

        Bull crap. I would do some research about how much food we feed to livestock who are born to die. You could feed someone for an entire week on the grain that goes into 1 pound of beef. Most people in the west are eating meat and dairy daily.

        I don’t think we NEED more people, but out standard of living is not to be decided on whim, as it has very real consequences for all other life.

        Our high consumption diets are pricing poorer people our of basic grains. The standard of living you mentioned is often at the expense of our environment and other humans and animals, it’s a discussion not worth closing just yet, especially given the ticking clock we have in this solar system.

      • Richard Ryan Grove says

        So you are suggesting that we should what? Stop eating meat. I’m sorry Human’s are Omnivores, we eat meat by nature, being a vegetarian is not natural, it is humans forgetting that we are deep down animals and a part of the system.

        Our population is at about the highest it should get. Using basic math we can figure out how much space is require to house and feed each person. Exceeding that is irresponsible.

      • Anonymous says

        I’m vegan, and totally alive lol

        There are many things from our evolutionary nature that we suppress or totally vanquish.

        Me choosing not to eat meat isn’t any less natural than you choosing to eat it

      • Anonymous says

        That is the case. The evolution of the brain began because populations of Homo erectus began to scavage meat. Our ancestors were carion eaters. In fact a gene in hyenas has been identified in humans. It could only have made this jump if it got incorporated by a virus which infects hyenas, which H-erectus picked up from hyena saliva. So we were low on the meat food chain; Lion first, next hyenas and then H-erectus might be able chase off the buzzards.

        In fact our carion ancestory is with us today, for we like to age and cure meats, while pure carnivores like meat completely fresh — even still living.

        However, we Americans eat far too much meat and animal production is both a health and environmental problem.


      • Anonymous says

        Eric, I do not disagree with your basic premise but you’ve flat out ignored my argument. Yes America and most developed nations do waste a huge ammount of food, for example, in order to protect prices some farmers are paid to burn a large amount of their crops. That still doesn’t mean we have the capacity to transport that food to the places that could use it.

        Secondary argument: go take a look at some satellite images of China. The Chinese have an amazing capacity to utilize the habitable and arable land in their nation. A little known fact is that though Gina is massive it has less habitable space than America. In fact besides the necessity to congregate in cities for the sake of industry we do this because vast swaths of every continent are barely habitable. Again let’s use china. Go back to those google images and try to find a open space that is not the Gobi desert, the Tibetan plateau, or the Himalayas. Modern humanity (other than on the relatively recently industrialized American continents) has occupied the majority of livable space. If when you add to this story the consideration that even in the United States we are rapidly depleting the useable top soil and other natural resources that are slow to replenish like wood, or will never (relative to human time) replenish such as oil, coal, natural gas, metals, plutonium, uranium, etc. it becomes imminently neccessary to find other ways to satiate our needs. Mars is a far off goal, a much better objective would be to colonize the moon or the asteroid belt as other posters have mentioned. This should be widely understood as the task of the next five to ten generations, I would love for a psychologist to weigh in on why the public finds it so difficult to consider such endeavors. It seems to me we all wish for a purpose in life, this is one, please take to it like a fish to water.

      • Anonymous says

        Why do we need so many crops?

        I’m really not trying to be rude, but think about how much it takes to feed a cow as opposed to just eating that food ourselves.

        This is all related to global warming, so I hope the relevance isn’t unappreciated

      • Anonymous says

        You are right, capitalistic interests lead those farmers to grow as much as they can as opposed to as much as they can sell or need. On the topic of meat: vegetarians are afraid of flavor, I spent two years living with them, I know. And it is true that we expend a lot of food to feed cattle, mostly corn, but that is corn that would not make it to market in the first place an if the ranchers did not buy it then it too would be burned (corn is one of the most overproduced crops in the US). That corn could be used to make ethanol but we do not in order to protect oil interests. And the reason we cannot relocate it has been previously stated. On the other hand, the reasons why we do not adequately feed our hungry domestic populace is significantly more disturbing. In short what we are discussing is not as simple of a problem as one might wish, it is not only a political problem, it is a logistical problem and an institutional problem as well. Expansion into the solar system is a much better way to force a change in the political structure of one nation or (hopefully) the world than individual bloody revolutions which is the other option.

      • Anonymous says

        We are indeed mostly in agreement, but I think perhaps you misunderstood my point about the corn subsidies. The food waste is not occurring on the level of the crop farmer.

        Factory farms are the chief reason that our agricultural system has been pushed to the brink. Grain to meat ratios range from 6:1 to 10:1 pound for pound(I’ve completely left out the factor of fresh water use/contamination).
        The amount of waste grains in the States is practically negligible compared to the amounts that are poured into the factory farm system.

        I hope I haven’t dragged things too far off topic.


      • Anonymous says

        Sorry, to clarify, farmers continue to grow more than they can sell because that land is not paying for itself if they don’t. And if they can’t sell it they know they can still earn some money by burning it at the request of the government. We need a more responsible set of legislators, this may have been an ok policy thirty or forty years ago but there are better solutions, certain congressmen and senators protect policies like this to please their constituency. It would probably be wise to dissolve and reform the senate and possibly redraw the borders of states in order to allow for a more proportional representation of the political interests of the majority of Americans, as it stands we have enabled a minority such as the republican party to control the legislative process. (though they lack enough seats to get the laws they want passed the way they want them, they have enough to keep good bills from becoming law if they do not get precisely what they want, this is not politics, politics involves compromise not hostages)

      • Torbjörn Larsson says

        There is no such social drive force to maximize the population. On the other hand we have private interests, and they tend to minimize it. At least when resources are plentiful and risks decrease, that is why people want small families and the population stabilizes.

        As for efficiency, we get better all the time. Again due to selfish concern, not due to a want to use up the resources.

  7. Anonymous says

    No. We are stuffing up our planet. Why inflict this on Mars?

  8. Jon Hrubesch says

    I’ve heard that even if you were to spend billions of dollars to terraform Mars it wouldn’t sustain the atmosphere for long anyway. And yes, the lack of a magnetic field would make it even less desirable to bother. So I believe, life or no life existing on the surface, it will always come down to the dollars and cents.
    The thing I kept thinking about is what if Mars was a lush planet like Earth with plants and animals. Don’t you think we would be throwing money at a project that would send people there asap. I’m sure there would be an outcry to preserve it but the desire to explore and even take what we can from it would be too overwhelming. Maybe I’m just clinical but you only have to look at our history to know that we will always take advantage of a location if it has something to offer.
    But this is why I believe Mars will be safe for the foreseeable future as sending people there anytime soon is far too expensive to be worth it.

  9. Bruce Thomas says

    Teraform Mars NO If we plan a base enclose the base leave mars in its natural state. WHY DESTROY ANOTHER PLANET WIT POLUTION. We have made our world unsafe for life why mkake another

  10. Torbjörn Larsson says

    The question is if we can “manform” Mars. Likely we eventually can, and the motivation exists, so it will be done. (Try to stop Musk from his more or less realistic realization of how to expand into the planet system or at least Mars.)

    Whether we can or will terraform Mars is a secondary question. Maybe colonizers will find it profitable, maybe not.

    If existing life makes a wholesale terraforming impossible even after introducing a dense enough atmosphere, it may be possible to locally sterilize the soil deep enough by neutron and gamma emitting nuclear devices. That would set up local habitats that martian life would not easily recolonize.

    That colonization would endanger science of geology or putative biology seems far fetched. Even if there was once a recognizable common ancestor (transpermia), long divergence would tell lineages apart.

    As far as ethic concerns go, morality is so far mostly an interspecies trait. With some interesting late additions of domestic and pet animals in an “extended family” of sorts in most if not all cultures.

  11. Anonymous says

    “Such a precious discovery, which could teach us immensely about how life arose on both worlds, should be completely off-limits”

    Completely off limits.. Why? So we must designate Mars a gigantic Diane Feinstein wilderness? Putting aside that it appears facts are being assumed that are not in evidence about the origins of life, I think misanthropic-tilted moralities like this should always be questioned and openly examined.

  12. David Sharp says

    Assuming that the lack of a magnetic field and that the low gravity doesn’t lead to a gradual loss of greenhouse gasses and oxygen and therefore we could terraform Mars, why should a handful (even in the thousands) of macrobiotic species prevent us from doing so? we would eradicate certain species here on Earth if we could and have come very close to doing so on purpose, i.e. polio, Cholera, Yersinia pestis and so on. On Earth one must be careful of disrupting the food chain and the balance we all need to survive but on Mars we would ostensibly be engineering our own system. These are non conscious creatures that are pretty much Natures little automatons and not necessarily worth conserving. Consider the possibility that life on Earth may have been seeded from elsewhere and survival of the fittest. The loss of indigenous macrobiotic species so that more sophisticated life can spread seems to be as natural as anything else. I’m not philosophically convinced.

  13. Rick says

    Terraforming would be a long process with a comprehensive plan to do it from the get go. To compare changing the environment on Mars to the changes we are making on earth needs to be defined. Usually the problems people have with the changes we make to the Earth are do to with consequences, such as the loss of habitat and extinction of species and generally making the Earth a worse place for humans to live. Preservation in this sense is a very good idea. However the damage we are doing is not deliberate but a side effect of the way we live. Terraforming would be a careful and deliberate process.

    If there is life on Mars it should be preserved, but also studied. If there is not life (and never has been) there doesn’t seem to be any argument for the preservation of a wasteland.

    TL makes a good point, there is much historic evidence of species adapting to environments and with the huge time-scales involved maybe we could meet Mars halfway with genetic engineering.

  14. Rick says

    Terraforming would be a long process with a comprehensive plan to do it from the get go. To compare changing the environment on Mars to the changes we are making on earth needs to be defined. Usually the problems people have with the changes we make to the Earth are do to with consequences, such as the loss of habitat and extinction of species and generally making the Earth a worse place for humans to live. Preservation in this sense is a very good idea. However the damage we are doing is not deliberate but a side effect of the way we live. Terraforming would be a careful and deliberate process.

    If there is life on Mars it should be preserved, but also studied. If there is not life (and never has been) there doesn’t seem to be any argument for the preservation of a wasteland.

    TL makes a good point, there is much historic evidence of species adapting to environments and with the huge time-scales involved maybe we could meet Mars halfway with genetic engineering.

  15. Anonymous says

    I also recommend reading Chris McKay’s note.

    He argues that terraforming Mars with an oxygen atmosphere is probably not practical, but it should be possible to use fluorocarbons to warm Mars and make a thin carbon dioxide atmosphere over a hundred years. This may make an atmosphere that could sustain some life, though not ordinary earth animal life. He argues this could last even without a substantial Martian magnetic field.

    Once he argued that it might be possible, he then analyses the various arguments for and against terraforming Mars. He considers the possibility that there may be lifeforms that we cannot currently detect, and he advises caution. But, supposing we can establish that there is no life on Mars, what are the arguments for terraforming? He argues that it makes little sense to make more space for humans, or to use Mars as a ‘lifeboat’ for Earth. The only pressing reason to alter the atmosphere on Mars may be to show by experiment that we can understand and control entire atmospheres. And we may need that knowledge to understand what we are doing on Earth.

    There are no plans to do anything in a rush. Mars will still be there in a hundred years time, or a thousand. We may find we can control the Earth’s atmosphere beneficently without this massive experiment. But there’s no harm in seeing whether the figures add up.

  16. Anonymous says

    I`m pretty sure that mars will not be protected from the sun when it becomes a red giant, that is if the Andromeda galaxy does not collide with us first, so I see very little use in terraforming any planet within this zone!

  17. Anonymous says

    I think we need to take into consideration our limitations. We humans are very good at linear thinking. Even nonlinear systems like general relativity or quantum chromodynamics has an underlying linearity to it. Fortunately this way of thinking does permit us to learn what appear to be crucial aspects of the physical universe. So we can cover the “map” of the universe with some regions we understand well, connected by some “roads,” but in between all of this is a domain of nonlinear complexity which can only proximally look at, but not understand well or control.

    Such complex things are examples like complex soil-ecosystems, geo-hydrodynamics, the process of cloud formation and growth, the hydrodynamics of solar plasmas, convection currents in the oceans, and the most complex might just be ourselves. With respect to ourselves we have to admit we do a very poor job understanding our own systems of economics, demographics, social evolution and public opinion, and so forth. This weak grasp we have on such complex systems has a rich history, such as people think it is a great idea to put in a dam on a river, then maybe several more are put in place, and then decades later the river has been converted to a dead ditch and populations of fish, such as salmon, have plummeted. The Murphy’s Law of unexpected consequences almost always comes and bites us back.

    A planet is a complex system. Even Mercury, a planet often thought of as little more than a dead rock, has some complex structure. This certainly holds for Earth, and Mars is proving to be a complex system that we really have only begun to seriously explore. The matter of terraforming comes down to the question; if we provide an impulse or tweak on this system can we really predict what the response of the system will be? I think the track record for doing these things is dicey at best, where our activities of a similar nature, though smaller in scale, have a legacy of environmental disasters, which are beginning to add up to a major problem. Then we are going to suggest that maybe we should modify the environment of an entire planet to suit our needs. Clearly if there is life indigenous to Mars we are begging for trouble, which could turn out to be a reversed problem HG Wells penned for the Martians who invaded Earth in his “War of the Worlds.” We may expose ourselves to some biological system or microbes our immune systems have no defenses against, which could even prove devastating for much of life on Earth.

    In effect Mars evolved to be in the state it is in. If we attempt to nudge it away from its current state, say be directing lots of solar energy to it with large mirrors or Fresnel lenses, the system will respond, but in a way that it will always tend to follow a minimal path back to the state it evolved to exist in if we don’t keep perturbing its evolution to fit our plans. Of course there are other aspect of this problem which have to be addressed, such as the lack of a decent magnetic field.

    I think if we colonize space, which is itself filled with problematic issues, we will do so by converting asteroids into micro-earths, with sealed bio-zones encased in the asteroid. We may not go into space by climbing out of this planet’s gravity well with the intention of planting ourselves back down in some other gravity well. Of course converting asteroids into utilitarian items or floating cities in space is also adjusting or changing naturally occurring systems, but I suspect it will be fraught with far few problems and complexity we might have with terraforming Mars.


  18. Eric says

    The only reason the earth is the way it is, is because of the moon flexing the surface crust in a wave as it passes, which keeps the mantle liquefied by the tremendous heat produced. Bend a piece of metal back and forth for a while and see how hot it gets, then imagine never stopping the bending process, how hot would it get?

    This ripple effect, or wave, causes continental drift, ocean currents, volcanic action, and weather patterns, making a living dynamic planet which sustains life as we know it

    Mars has no moon, therefore Mars is living a different life than the earth, and trust me planets are alive. So Mars is not dead, but if we want an Earth like existence there without constant maintenance then Mars will need a moon.

    I think that if we can orbit, photograph, and land on moon like bodies in space it should not be an issue to bring Mars a moon. Imagine the changes that would make, further indigenous life will adapt or die, bleeding hearts never created anything but stagnation


    • Anonymous says

      I would go to elementary texts if I were you, Eric. Mars has two moons. They don’t exert much tidal effect, as Earth’s moon does. Most of Mars’ atmosphere has been stripped by solar radiation, something our magnetic field protects us from happening here on Earth. The pollution we have tried to stop here would help thicken Mars’ atmosphere and warm it up. By adding arctic tolerant lichens and mosses, we would start oxygen production on the warmed soils once it becomes more arctic-like. Water would be released from the polar regions and permafrost believed to be beneath the Martian dust. Eventually, clouds would form and rain and snow would fall. After that, we would plant grasses and trees. It would always be colder than Earth, but habitable after a few hundred years, with breathable (for Martians) air. Our first colonies will be biospheres and pods, but the natural resources of Mars will allow us to build towns and cities and farms if we are going to survive there. As billions are added to Earth’s population, where else will we go? Look into the Mars Society, created by a former NASA scientist, Dr. Robert Zubrin.

      • Member
        Anonymous says

        As billions are added to Earth’s population, where else will we go?

        I think you’re very optimistic if you think billions of people will migrate off the planet… how many rockets will that take? I consider my own prediction to be far more realistic – as billions are added to Earth’s population, billions more will simply die off as we are consumed by famine and war.

        If we’re ever going to elsewhere in the solar system it won’t be because of population pressure.

      • Eric says

        You missed my point Bill 32805 It needs a moon as big, or in the same proportion as the one orbiting earth, little moons have little effects. and regardless of common belief the moon is all that makes this planet what it is, and it doesn’t need us to continue it’s existence

      • Anonymous says

        I never said that billions of people will go to Mars, like a mass exodus. It will take centuries to terraform it. Its not beyond our abilities to go to the moon, Mars, asteroids, etc. As scramjet technology improves, we will escape Earth’s gravity without huge rockets to LEO to orbiting hotels and spacestations. Think 2001:A Space Odyssey. There’s far too much scientific exploring to be done for us to remain a stagnant species on Earth. And some scientists will decide to homestead and raise families on Mars. They are more likely to change it than we are. So please understand that you and I are not deciding this inevitable change now and forever. Its beyond us. We’ll be long gone before it happens, but it will happen.

    • William Sparrow says

      Err….Phobos and Deimos aren’t moons??

    • Member
      Anonymous says

      The only reason the earth is the way it is, is because of the moon flexing the surface crust in a wave as it passes, which keeps the mantle liquefied by the tremendous heat produced.

      That’s not even vaguely true – current theories point to 20% of the heat being left-over from planetary accretion and 80% of the heat being generated by radioactive decay. The tidal effect of the moon on the heating of the mantle is so negligible as to be non-existent.

      I think that if we can orbit, photograph, and land on moon like bodies in space it should not be an issue to bring Mars a moon.

      Yes, taking a picture of a moon is comparable to building a moon from scratch. Are you for real?

      • Eric says

        Bull Shit, are you locked in antique science? the ripple effect is enormous, it elongates the earth on the side it’s on. Go ahead and ignore the obvious, there are other examples of this in our solar system, is it really that hard to see it happening here.

        There is money to be made evading the simple, and insisting upon a more complicated and unexplainable mysterious source. Science has become it’s own religion, with it’s untouchable figureheads, written texts, and wrong assumptions.

      • Member
        Anonymous says

        Try Geodynamics, Cambridge University Press. Tidal heating does occur in some places (Europa an excellent example; it drives tectonic effects on the ice) but not on Earth. Modern science has it down as 20% residual heat from accretion and 80% radioactive decay.

        And if you actually crunch the numbers (as has been done to calculate the tidal heating in the interior of Europa), the amount of tidal heat generated in Earth by the Moon is just paltry.

      • 38trippleds says

        You crunch the numbers, I know I’m right, and I would be willing to bet it has been overlooked just as tectonic plate movement was until the early 80s, It’s obvious to me but I’m just a stupid nail pounder with a high school education, what would I know

    • Torbjörn Larsson says

      Nope, nothing of the Rare Earth is a fact.

      The effect of the Moon has changed a lot as the Moon has been slowed by tides and moved out. The inner heat has been sustained, and so has plate tectonics.

      Earth is marginal for plate tectonics, but the Moon seems to have nothing to do with it.

  19. Timothy Gaede says

    Chris McKay’s paper suggests that extremely low levels of nitrogen on Mars may prevent it from ever having a biosphere as active as Earth’s. He also suggests that the amount of a fluorocarbon like C3F8 needed to push Mars over the edge could “only” be about 0.001% times the atmospheric pressure on Earth. But this still comes to about 100 billion tonnes.

    I don’t think the “could we” question has been answered yet. Nevertheless, I think transforming would be a good thing even if Mars has indigenous life.

  20. liberty_rocks says

    Well, I’m glad this group isn’t deciding. Terraforming Mars is rather unavoidable, lest we wish extinction upon ourselves, or indeed go extinct ourselves while waiting around here.

    And to you, save the Earth folks (not that we can do any real damage, look at Hellas, that is real damage), someday we may wish to move a portion of Earth’s population to Mars, to spare Earth. Regardless, man will do whatever it takes to expand and thrive (the current American contraction of spirit, notwithstanding).

  21. Jeff says

    The human race will undeniably need more room in the future, but modifying Mars seems less desirable than constructing such places to live from the raw materials in the asteroids. Why climb down into another gravity well for real estate that requires either complex life support systems or terraforming? Establishing technology that could get us to Mars and inhabit it would be a step forward, but descending to Mars would be a step back. Such technology would apply equally well at creating freely solar-orbiting colonies, without the drawback of requiring heavy launch facilities to get back up from a planetary surface. Mars should be treated like the Galapagos.

  22. Anonymous says

    Wouldn’t the eradication of existing Martian life possibly interrupt the natural evolution of that species which might, in millions of years, result in a sentient organism?

    • HeadAroundU says

      I don’t know if Mars will get a chance to develop an intelligent life, but our interests are more important.

    • Member
      Anonymous says

      Given the current and foreseeable condition of Mars, there’s pretty much no scope at all for the evolution of anything complex, let alone intelligent. The environment just isn’t there for that. It would at least needs large oceans.

    • Self-made millionaire says

      We are a sentient organism and our natural evolution is to colonize Mars, so we’re not interrupting anything.

  23. Anonymous says

    It seems to me that Venus would be a better target for terra forming. Mars would be like trying to live in Antartica, and there would be no easy way to heat it up. On Earth, when large volcano erupts and spews volcanic ash into the upper atmosphere, it cools down the earth. This type of thing or similar methods could be used to cool Venus, and hence, terraform it.

    • Robert Gleisinger says

      While Venus would probably be better to colonize than Mars, its existing atmosphere is highly corrosive and would make terraforming incredibly difficult. However, its gravity and EM field are similar to Earth’s. Therefore, if we can regulate its climate, possibly by manipulating its orbit, and simulate the tidal effects of our large moon it could essentially become a new Earth.

      This raises issues if we find any native life there, but that is unlikely at those temperatures would kill most life as we know it, save a few extremophile microbes.

      Mars, however, would not be as suitable due to its weak gravity and relative lack of EM field, although it is concievable that the EM field could be artificially created.

    • Member
      Anonymous says

      Now that’s a fascinating idea…. it would probably be far, far easier to build giant sunshades in space to cool Venus than it would be to be to build atmosphere to warm Mars.

      Also it would be marginally easier to get to, as it’s closer and is down the gravity well of the Sun.

      The surface pressure is a 100 times that of Earth though. And as Robert points out, full of everything we wouldn’t want in an atmosphere…

      • Anonymous says

        Another great advantage would be power . . . the “sunshades” you mention could actually be solar energy collectors . . . .

  24. captchas says

    Where did all the water go? There’s something about Mars that precludes it from retaining water. We need to restore the water before Mars is habitable.

    • It’s pretty clear that Mars once had an atmosphere and even oceans. It is thought that the Borealis basin might have been the result of a huge impact with something. That would have been enough to knock the atmosphere off the planet.

      It does seem to have more water left than many assumed for a long time. Go back not too long ago and scientist were saying there’s no water on Mars, or the moon.

      It’s also possible it lost its magnetic field, allowing solar radiation to strip off the atmosphere.

      Maybe the MAVEN probe will answer some questions in 2014.

  25. Anonymous says

    We need to continue a studied but persistent exploration of Mars, with the the eventual end goal of colonization when sound technology is available and it is cost efficent. Terraforming would then be the next logical process, to make the colonization work better and to make Mars a better place to live.

  26. HeadAroundU says


  27. chipperjones says

    What a load of bleeding heart dogma. The universe is here for the expansion of intelligent life. Terraforming is part of the evolution of our species. We explore and expand, it is in our DNA. Whether Mars has micro-organisms or not it not an issue of whether we should terraform it or not. The presence of life only validates and strengthens the possibility of one day terraforming the planet. Plus, once our planet is swallowed up by the artificial black hole future scientists create in an experiment gone wrong, we will need a place to go.

    • Steven Sheehy says

      Sorry but if a black hole did pop up on our planet, then of course depending on the mass of a black hole, it would otherwise destroy mars itself.

      • Member
        Anonymous says

        Well, a black hole only has the mass of the matter it absorbs, so if it swallowed the Earth it would become an Earth-mass black hole. Nothing else in the solar system would be affected – even the Moon would continue to orbit as usual.

      • Anonymous says

        That is true. If the Earth were converted to a black hole it would be a few millimeters in diameter and with the same long range gravity field the Earth currently has. For those who know physics think about Gauss’ law.

        There is no worry over generating a black hole. Even if the LHC produces so called black holes, these are just black hole amplitudes in the scattering process which stem from a QCD correspondence. The black hole is really a shadow state or some small quantum amplitude for a black hole, not a real black hole. To produce a black hole it would require that we excite a vacuum state or oscillator with a Planck unit of mass. This is 10^{16} times the energy of the LHC. This quantum of energy is equivalent to what is in a gallon (about 4 liters) of gasoline or what is called in the rest of the world petrol. The beam luminosity would also require at least 10^{13} particles, which at the Planck energy would involve about 10^{12} barrels of petroleum worth of energy. That is nearly all the proven reserves of oil in the world. Also the accelerator would have to be in a ring that would encompass the entire galaxy. Even if that were possible the black hole would quantum decay in less than 10^{-40} seconds instead of growing so as to devour the Earth.


      • Eric says

        Jupiter dosn’t even have enough mass to egnight into a star, Earth could never be a black hole, never!

      • Richard Ryan Grove says

        I think they were hypothesizing a Black Hole that is man made not natural.

      • Anonymous says

        As RR Grove puts it in this subtread, this is in reference to the flapdoodle over the LHC generating a black hole. Of course cosmic rays impact the Earth and every other planet with far higher energy and there is no evidence of stars or planets mysteriously being converted into black holes. The concerns was that a Planck unit black hole might be generated that would grow by consuming the Earth. Of course even if that happened it would quantum mechanically decay in a few Planck time units far before it could consume anything and grow.


    • Anonymous says

      Any statement about the universe having a purpose is more religious in nature than scientific. There is no evidence that the universe exists for any purpose or that we have some destiny within it. The universe “just is,” and it is complex enough to permit us to have evolved within it. Whether there is any deeper meaning to this is a matter of metaphysical or even religious speculation.


      • Anonymous says

        As we dig deeper into the substrate, where is the point at which the physical disappears and becomes the metaphysical.

      • Member
        Anonymous says

        That is a meaningless question.

      • Anonymous says

        I think it is a meaningful question. I think that ultimately, physics will hit the end of the trail during the hunt for understanding, the problem being it will occur short of that goal.

      • Anonymous says

        At that point we really are at the end of physics. It might also mean that we are “lost.”


      • Anonymous says

        That’s true. Assigning purpose to the universe is a poor basis on which to examine it. However, there may well be patterns of development and evolutionary mechanisms, that we don’t know of or understand. If we could comprehend those mechanisms and patterns we may discover there is some mechanism that makes life an inevitable product of the universe’s evolution.

      • Anonymous says

        I am tempted to go into John Wheeler’s conjecture about the observer generated reality, or Penrose’s conjecture about the role of mind in the universe. However, this takes things way off topic. Consciousness might be some aspect of reality which is dual to physical reality, though that is dependent upon interpretations of quantum mechanics.


      • Colby Hayward says

        I suppose one could say the purpose of the Universe is whatever we, as sapient beings, decide to do with it. XD

      • Anonymous says

        You might get thumbs up from Doesteyevsky, Camus, Sartre and Heidegger. This is the basic thesis of existentialism. Meaning is not something which exists out in the world, but something we confer upon life and the world.


    • Anonymous says

      I want a “Dislike” button!

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  29. Marcel Williams says

    Before humans can live permanently on Mars,even without terraforming, we need to know if a 0.38 g hypogravity environment is healthy for the human body and for human reproduction.

    There is enough asteroid material in the solar system to build millions of rotating artificial worlds with Earth-like environments that could accommodate trillions of people. So there really is no reason to terraform Mars. Mars is a natural wonder that, IMO, should be left as it is for scientist to study and for people to explore for the rest of human existence.

    • Member
      Anonymous says

      I agree that space habitats would be a better bet than terraforming Mars, but the main upside in my view is that we could simulate an Earth atmosphere with relative ease on a space habitat. I wouldn’t fancy living on Mars if I had to don a spacesuit everytime I wanted to go for a walk!

  30. hippieland says

    Truth is we dont really have the choice. Earth is full.

    • Member
      Anonymous says

      Well, there’s always the other option: make Earth less full. Nature will do that for us long before we have the technology or the resources to send billions to Mars.

      • Anonymous says

        That would mean another world war

      • kkt says

        Not necessarily. China has reduced its birthrate to below replacement levels without a war. True, its methods are coercive, but not as bad as a war.

        Birthrates in many countries would go down if two things happened: old-age security other than depending on one’s children, and free and available contraception. As (more or less) intelligent creatures, we do have options other than following our reproductive drives into standing-room-only.

  31. Darren says

    Mars has plenty of water and oxygen. It’s just trapped in the soil. Ask yourself. How would life exist on earth without plants to replenish our oxygen supply. Terraforming mars begins simply by small bacteria that can stand the cold and convert iron oxide into oxygen to survive. Shouldn’t be too hard to make here on earth. Once enough gas is realeased from the soil, pressures and oxygen levels should settle to levels similiar to high altitudes on earth.

    • Xybex R&D says

      Reducing iron oxides with Hydrogen yields WATER and the free metal. It’s a spongy and brittle metal…it’s called gangue, or sponge iron. This process is called “Direct
      Reduction. The iron ore is reduced with Hydrogen or a coal based reducing agent. This process is used in India.

  32. kkt says

    Robinson’s Mars series is great science fiction. But if his numbers came out that it wouldn’t work, he wouldn’t have a story. If necessary, in order to tell a story he’ll handwave or selectively pick the numbers.

    I think we’re many hundreds of years away from even having the ability to terraform Mars. Sending a few probes is one thing, billions of tons of chemicals to mix in the atmosphere is something else.

    How can we be sure there’s no underground life? Dig up the entire planet before the project even begins?

    I’m not sure that living on a planet would be the best place for a population to live. Any interplanetary travel would begin with an expensive launch. Many space stations would be better from a transportation point of view, much less expensive, and provide more independent life-supporting homes in case of disaster to Earth. A few small mining or scientific communities in bubbles, maybe.

    • Torbjörn Larsson says

      Yes. But you can check his numbers.

      • Anonymous says

        Terraforming Mars would be a multi-century project. Our modern world manages to engage in decade projects, such as sending astronauts to the moon or the LHC. These projects usually end up being curtailed or not followed up on, with groaning and kvetching over budgets and taxes. The medieval world managed to build cathedrals over a century or more. Our world is time compressed; we like fast food, terraflop computer speed and cookie cutter suburbs that can be built in a year.


  33. Anonymous says

    And here’s my stand.

    • Emmett Dudley says

      Take your memes elsewhere

      • Anonymous says

        Unfortunately I cannot properly reply to your statement as it would be considered trolling.

        So just have a good day sir and a happy new year! 🙂

        And as for terraforming. We are humans and have certain abilities to use and re-shape the matter for our needs – why should we stop ourselves from doing it? It’s all just a balance of what you gain/lose in return. If we find it needed, for some reason, to terraform Mars for our needs, well, fancy rock formations shouldn’t be stopping us from doing it.

      • Richard Ryan Grove says

        I agree we have the ability and should use it if necessary. I think colonizing other world is a need. Staying on only one world is like keeping all our eggs in one basket. It was the same with exploring all of our own world to ensure survival, it created diversity that is much needed. Besides we have at our core a need to see what’s beyond the edge of the map, without an thing to explore we become subject to excess. Explains are a plenty.

  34. No we shouldnt.

    Apart from the lack of a strong magnetic field, there is another element in my idea: what part of “not contradicting nature’s geological results/fate” we haven’t understood about???. Mars now a days is not as hospitable as it was for life in the past, largely because of its geological features, not only because of its current atmospherical properties.

    In my country (Venezuela) in 1999 there was a huge catastrophe that claimed the lives of approximately 20,000 people -search for Vargas Tragegy 1999 if interested-. This happened because there was an ENORMOUS landslide that destroyed a huge populated area, that happened to have been constructed in the spanish occupation times on top of an ancient river flow. As soon as the water came down in massive quantities together with HUGE rocks, mud, trees, etc, it came down through the natural path that geological time had carved through the mountain.

    Im afraid that ANY attempt to terraform a planet that was “sterilized” by nature may face a similar fate.

    Lets stick to our search of earth like planets, and start forgetting about the profit so much, and start developing interstellar travel instead… there are no geological features in the time-space continuum that separates us from the stars :)!

    Have a happy new year!



  35. William says

    Mars should not be terraformed, regardless of whether it has life or not. Just put up a bunch of large domes each 100+ kilometers across. Such an environment inside these domes might not reach across an entire world, but they would be huge by human standards and would seem very world-like to their inhabitants (who also have the option to visit other domes).

    Far less resources “used” (wasted) than making an entire planet have an earthlike atmosphere, far better environmental control of the bioareas inside, each dome could have its own unique bioarea with a different climate/geography/plants/animals. The part of Mars outside of the domes, if maintained properly, would remain pristine. Also outside the domes no atmosphere to interfere with the space elevator for carrying people and resources to and from the surface.

    • Anonymous says

      William your idea makes sense. FYI, Mars does have an atmosphere. It is just thinner (less dense) than Earths. 🙂

      • It has a very weak atmosphere because it has a very weak magnetic field, so atmospheric gases leak into space and radiation levels are much higher than here on earth.

      • Anonymous says

        The atmospheric gases are stripped off into space by the solar wind that is not hampered much by a weak magnetic field. Short of giving Mars a fully functioning MF, I doubt there is a way to make the atmosphere habitable for humans. So in my opinion, the dome strategy would seem the best route to take.

    • Richard Ryan Grove says

      I agree that the bio dome idea is a great one, but terraforming gives Mars a more independent future. In all honesty thickening the atmosphere would not cost a lot because we are using the very tech need right here in the manufacturing plants all a cross the Earth. You could really make Mars into a manufacturing power house using conventional dirty manufacturing technics for the next hundred or so years to thicken the atmosphere, even if we can’t full transform Mars into a habitable world outside the domes, the increased pressure could make the domes safer in case of damage. The equal pressure should keep catastrophic failure rates down.

      • Xybex R&D says

        Richard is 100% correct. In fact, in stage 1 we would probably use liquid cryogens to create atmospheric pressure on all of the Moons since liquid cryogens EXPAND RAPIDLY once they warm up–the expansion ratio of LOX (liquid oxygen) for example, is 861:1 at 68 °F (20 °C). And, one litre of Liquid Nitrogen will expand to approximately 700 litres of nitrogen gas at STP. [1] This process must take place at least a year in advance, since all sorts of atmospheric phenomena (violent thunder, lightning, hail, etc.) will occur before it settles down into a viable atmosphere suitable for living creatures.

        In stage 2, we would use a bunch of mammals (groundhogs, moles, gophers, rabbits, lorises, lemurs, etc) to “bioform” the moon and Mars since all mammals produce WATER VAPOR, CO2 and methane gas as byproducts of RESPIRATION. The Earth’s atmosphere consists primarily of water vapor, CO2, methane, oxygen, nitrogen and other trace gases.

        In stage 3, we would either create a Geodynamo in Mars, or imbed a Superconducting Magnet (cryogen-free) near the mantle to generate a global magnetic field. We’d use Super Pulsed Fiber Lasers like the IPG Photonic Laser to burn a hole past the crust, drop it in and remotely turn the magnet on.

        And, creating an atmosphere will literally be–a piece of cake. All we have to do is cook with methane, propane or butane; eat til we drop; and be active. That’s because water vapor, CO2, methane and nitrogen are the primary byproducts of COMBUSTION, METABOLISM and AEROBIC RESPIRATION. Pretty soon, it’ll be flooding on the moon and on Mars!

        Propane C3H8 + 5 O2 –> 3 CO2 + 4 H2O

        Aerobic Respiration:
        C6H12O6 + 6 oxygen –> 6 CO2 + 6 H2O + ATP (energy)

        METHANE gas will impart a BLUE color to the sky (based on studies of Uranus’ and Neptune’s atmospheres). Light reflected from Neptune’s deep atmosphere is blue, because the atmospheric methane absorbs red and orange light but scatters blue light. Compost piles, landfills, sewers and farm/animal droppings are natural sources of methane.

      • Xybex R&D says

        Mars is a perfect candidate for a Geodynamo since it spins on its axis in much the same way Earth does. There are 3 requirements for a geodynamo:
        1) Molten metals (esp. iron/nickel/cobalt); 2) Rotation; and 3) Convection. A Super Pulsed Fiber Laser would be used to burn a shaft as deep as we can go; a minute amount of deuterium/tritium would be dropped in; the laser would be FOCUSED on the deuterium/tritium, igniting it. After about 20 to 50 years, outgassing should occur, spewing out gases and creating an atmosphere, atmospheric pressure and cloud cover.

        Alternatively, we can just concentrate all of the iron on the Martian surface, melt it and pour it into the center. Eddy currents arising from the spinning molten metal will generate a global magnetic field. Then we bring up a bunch of washing machines, blenders, etc. and the vibrations should cause plate tectonics to occur.

        Lunar and Martian CRATERS have to be filled with water from Earth, iron sulfate and Coccolithophores (an oxygen producing species of phytoplankton which generates up to 50% of the oxygen on Earth). Silicic acid may also have to be added to spur the growth of diatoms. Phytoplankton have a complex effect on cloud formation via the release of substances such as dimethyl sulfide (DMS) that are converted to sulfate aerosols in the atmosphere, providing Cloud Condensation Nuclei, or CCNs. Water vapor clings to CCN’s and dust to form CLOUDS. Ammonia is an aerosol which is a good vehicle for water vapor to cling to. Most mammals produce an abundance of ammonia.

        Remember, the infamous dust storms which envelop Mars for months at a time–will subside and perhaps be eliminated altogether–once a magnetic field is in place, and once adequate cloud cover develops, since it’s the “unfiltered radiation” which kicks up these storms to begin with. Also, planting a forest of trees (about 250 Willow trees), hedges, grass, etc. will “bind” much of the sediment to the soil, further diminishing the dust storms. It will also mop up much of the excess CO2 in Mars’ atmosphere. Burning cigarettes, incense and candles will also create some hazy cloud cover.

      • Anonymous says


        I knew my boss would find a way to justify his smoking habit eventually.

        How do I send him there?

    • Xybex R&D says

      We have to build underground fallout shelters in Mars also, to prepare for the collision with the Andromeda galaxy. And, if that weren’t bad enough, after the Andromeda, “as we fall towards the Virgo Super Cluster, even more titanic collisions are in store” for us.

  36. Anonymous says

    I volunteer to go.

    • Xybex R&D says

      At last, a brave soul. At least be prepared…survival of the fittest. Wait for SpaceX to roll out their spaceship in 2013. Read the FAQ at atmospheres dot 5u dot com. And use a Superconducting Magnet from cryogmagnetics dot com (a CRYOGEN-FREE superconducting magnet).

  37. Anonymous says

    Does Mars have a strong magnetic field? If not, any attempt to increase the atmosphere would probably fail and take generations to accomplish anyway. I agree with William and his domes.
    Any permanent Human presence would eventually alter any indigenous life forms. Do we have the right to do this? Personally, I think not. However this has never stopped us before in our explorations here on Earth or in space. Despite the “Clean rooms” Mars is probably already contaminated with earth organisms. It would be interesting to know if any of them have survived.

  38. Prof. Michael O. Zimmermann Ph says

    Let’s not be more holy than the pope… we have successfully screwed up the environment on this planet in just a miniscule time span, so yes, we should kick-start reviving the atmosphere of Mars, however, we should try to ‘terraform’ Venus as well. The sister planet of Earth has some advantages over Mars. And, yes again, we should as Elon Musk of SpaceX so rightfully stated, become a planetary space-faring society first, then do the ‘other thing’…

    • Anonymous says

      It is not clear how one could remove gas at 90 atmospheres of pressure. That is a really tough call. Even if you did that Venus would still be a pretty hot place to try to set up shop.


  39. Anonymous says

    Terra-forming Earth to clean up the mess we created would be a good first experiment to see if we can do it.

    • Anonymous says

      That might be in order. In general we have been making quite a mess of things here. We need to demonstrate that we can act in ways which make things at large improved, however that is defined.


    • Richard Ryan Grove says

      Yeah but unfortunately the ability to fix our own planet is beyond current level of tech. Staring on a barren world with a thin atmosphere like Mars is easy to get started at our current level or close to it. The first step of thickening the atmosphere would take a long time to complete, well over a hundred years, in that time we could continue research and preparing the next step. Hopefully the research into terraforming Mars would give us the skills to repair our world along the way.

  40. Jeff says

    *Why bother*? Mars isn’t like the old American west. We’re not talking about mass migration of individuals going to go stake a claim on Mars. It could only be made habitable by a astonishingly huge collaborative investment. If you just want more habitable planet surface, we have deserts and oceans that are woefully underpopulated right here on earth, that already have breathable atmosphere. Terraforming Mars would do little to transform us into a true space-faring race. We’d end up with another massive population stuck on another planet surface. The spirit of ‘lets spread life around the universe’ is admirable, but planet-centric thinking is just more of the same old stuff.

    • Anonymous says

      Indeed. It makes far more sense to simply build 10 kilometre across rotating space stations out of mined asteroids (if you design and build them well, at 10 km across they naturally create their own radiation shielding out of the outer structure). The resource expenditure necessary to terraform Mars would build us dozens of largescale orbital habitats, each potentially holding millions of people.

      So I say the same thing to Mars terraformation: “Why bother?”

      • You can’t live in a zero to low gravity situation for long periods of time; your bones get weak. So millions of people living on a orbiting habitat wouldn’t really work.

      • Richard Ryan Grove says

        A rotating station would create it’s own gravity via centrifugal force.

      • That’s true, as seen in 2001: A Space Odyssey. I actually thought about that, but he was talking about mined asteroids. But yes, I see now he said rotating.

      • Jeff says

        Yes, asteroids would supply the raw materials for the habitats, and you could spin them for simulated gravity. And while it might be a challenge to spin a large habitat up to near earth normal gravity, there would be nothing you could do to alter the gravity situation on the surface of Mars. The *only* advantage on the Martian surface is that, thin as it is, there is an atmosphere, so your breathing gas will come to you, whereas, living in the belt, your having to go find your air in frozen chunks.

      • Tester says

        Those huge space habitats would rotate in order to use inertial forces to simulate gravity. So there is not that issue.

    • Anonymous says

      Asteroids make more sense in the long run. There are up to 750,000 asteroids of 1km diameter, and 10,000 at 10km. Let us consider the following possibility. Suppose we take a 1km = 10^3 m asteroid and we were able to heat it up so that it melts. We then blow this up like a balloon. That might require some sort of vaporization or method for exerting pressure. The volume of material in the asteroid is 4?r^3/3 and if we blow this up into a hollow sphere ?r = 10 m thick the volume of material is 4?R^2?r. Now equate the two to solve for the radius of this hollow shell R^2 = r^3/3?r. For the 1km asteroid blown up this is 5.8km.. For the 10km asteroid this is 58km. The area of the spheres are 423km^2 and 42270km^2. Given that only about half is habitable this comes to about 200 and 2000 km^2 apiece. These could hold in principle 10^5 and 10^6 people respectively. Given the numbers of asteroids

      1 km blowup radius = 5.8km, area = 423km
      750,000 total area = 3.17×10^8km^2

      3 km blowup radius = 30km area = 900km
      200,000 total area = 1.8×10^8km^2

      5 km blowup radius = 64km, area = 4167km^2
      90,000 total area = 3.75×10^8km^2

      10 km blowup radius = 200km, area = 2000km^2
      10,000 total area = 2×10^8km^2

      This is a total area of about a billion km^2 of living space. These hollow spheres could be rotated to provide 1g of gravity, or something comparable. Now only about half of this area is livable due to the incline and the loss of gravity near the axis of rotation. So if I assume the thickness of the shell is 50m I then double the spherical area and there is then about 1 billion km^2 of livable real estate. So even with a population density comparable to Earth ~ 14persons/km^2 this comes to living space for about 14 billion people. The regions on Earth which are largely habitable have up to 50people/km^2 and so by colonizing asteroids this way it is possible to set up living space for 50 billion people.

      Of course this is highly fantastical, almost as much as terraforming Mars, but this has the advantage of being built little by little. It starts with one 1km asteroid, then a few more, then dozens and then …. These are grand projects, but not quite on the scale of reforming the environment of a much larger system like a planet.

      Of course the question is how do you melt a huge asteroid, about 5×10^9 tons for a 1km asteroid, and blow it up? This will require imparting about 10^{17}joules of energy onto the body, which is as much energy as we human generate in a week’s time. This requires about a 100 megatons equivalent of explosives. Of course that is one possibility, set off a huge nuclear explosion, or a series of them. Radiation of course is a question there. The other method might be to concentrate solar energy onto the asteroid. A huge solar collector/concentrator 25-50km in diameter or radius would about do the trick.

      Of course this is terribly simplistic, and making one of these shells into a habitable zone will be quite an enterprise. However, it is small compared to converting Mars into a habitable planet


  41. Anonymous says

    For some reason, EVERYONE feels qualified to expound their opinions on this subject. Some really bad logic, emotional response and cluttered thinking being showcased here. If we can find no life there, then why preserve a desert? Ok, it’s pretty (if you think lifeless gravel fields are pretty) and it’s pristine but then, where your house used to be was a wonderful forest full of life. Billions of lifeforms lived (past tense) where that shopping mall is going up down the street. (Guess how much life an asphalt parking lot supports). No, Mars will never support the kind of out of control numbers we have here on Earth. The most optimistic estimates don’t even suggest that poor people could even survive there. (Honey, I sewed a patch on to your radiation suit so you can walk to your job at the Martian Quicky Mart.) No, it would always be the home of science, some manufacturing and mining and photographers (of beautiful, pristine boulder fields with peach sunsets.) The planet will always look pretty much like it does now with the notable exception of the possibility of some small bodies of water and rivers in the gulleys. (I think that would be an improvement.) (And a souvenir shop at the base of “Elvis Face Mountain”)
    Venus is not even remotely comparable to Mars in terraforming possibilities. One is a monumental job. The other is akin to sending mobile communities to live on sunspots. Note how many probes have been sent to the surface of Mars compared to Venus. We can’t even build a ROBOT to survive that place! And to one commenter in particular, worrying about the fate of the sun or Andromeda galaxy mingling with our own is well, stupid. If you knew you could get another billion years or so for the human race by moving to Mars, would you really say it’s not worth it??? Recall that as a species, we’ve only existed for some 200,000 years.

    • Venus is a planet with a huge greenhouse effect and a massive amount of pressure in it’s atmosphere. A few well aimed nukes could leak a huge amount of atmospheric pressure into space and Venus could suddenly become a lot more attractive to visitors.
      With Mars, building an atmosphere and thinking up a way to stop it leaking into space is a much bigger hurdle in both knowledge and resources.

      • Richard Ryan Grove says

        Even if we could thin Venus’s atmosphere the nature of Venus is to volatile. Mars is basically dead and inactive making long term projects safer, with Venus is very volcanically active and that does not make the surface safe enough for a long term outpost. Plus even if you manage to dissipate the atmosphere it will still be acidic.

      • Colby Hayward says

        I’m not sure you quite realize just how massive a planetary atmosphere is. The entirety of Earth’s nuclear arsenal at its peak would literally do nothing to the Venusian atmosphere. To have any significant effect you’d have to be throwing large asteroids or small moons at it.

      • Anonymous says

        Yes, by adding billions of pounds (kilotonnes) of dust and radioactivity to Venus, we should make it a lot less hostile.

    • Anonymous says

      I`m not saying we should not put a station of some sort on Mars, But to go through all the trouble of terraforming a planet that is doomed in the long run seems counter productive to our needs! We pretty much know when our solar system is going to end, so I`m just saying we should look to the future and look outside our solar system! After all if we have so much time as you assume, then why not look at the big picture!

      • Anonymous says

        It is a source of continual amusement when I hear people voice great concerns over our survival billions of years into the future, when there are some real questions over whether we will survive through this century. It is certain that any self-organizing system that is conscious which exists in this universe will expire at some point. If nothing else in the far future the accelerated exponential expansion of the universe means that any such system will have all energy and other resources accelerate away beyond the cosmological horizon and beyond access. Of course that is even further into the future, but there are plenty of troublesome spots along the way before then. In the case of our species the most immediate problem we face is our own inability to rein in our appetites and curb our tendency to demolish everything in our path. This is the biggest issue which confronts us, for we stand a very good chance of collapsing the life support system of this planet which sustains us.


      • Anonymous says

        I agree , but I believe there is a limit to how far we should humanize mars! At best it should be some sort of fueling station, with perhaps a self containing greenhouse of some sort!

      • Anonymous says

        I have heard this from Fenner in the past. I think it is very possible the human condition may implode sometime this century. That may not necessarily push us into extinction, though it is impossible to say either way. Our future could be a sort of rewind of the “history VCR” where we end up back in the stone age.


      • IVAN3MAN_AT_LARGE says

        Planet of the Apes? 😉

      • Anonymous says

        As we are the only species to ever gain control over our environment, we have nothing to compare to when suggesting inevitable extinction. I can think of NO scenario that ends with all of us gone, unless over the course of several millennia.

      • Anonymous says

        It is a source of continual amusement when I hear people voice great concerns over our survival billions of years into the future, when there are some real questions over whether we will survive through this century. It is certain that any self-organizing system that is conscious which exists in this universe will expire at some point. If nothing else in the far future the accelerated exponential expansion of the universe means that any such system will have all energy and other resources accelerate away beyond the cosmological horizon and beyond access. Of course that is even further into the future, but there are plenty of troublesome spots along the way before then. In the case of our species the most immediate problem we face is our own inability to rein in our appetites and curb our tendency to demolish everything in our path. This is the biggest issue which confronts us, for we stand a very good chance of collapsing the life support system of this planet which sustains us.


      • Anonymous says

        ALL planets are doomed in the long run. All stars are doomed in the long run. We have a good long future if we decide to not blow it. Looking beyond our solar system for help for the human species is effectively silly at our technological and societal level. Right now we have the possibility of thinking ahead to making a second world more useful. And yes, as the sun heats up (way before it ever goes red giant) Mars will become a warmer world where Earth will become useless. Those are facts and the fact that I use facts as opposed to emotional responses or goofy ideas like nuking Venus, makes me more qualified. Sorry about that.

  42. d.w. kobza says

    seeing as how we’ve messed up earth’s atmosphere, land, and water, perhaps it’s high time we dispense with this whole “tinkering” idea all together and begin to leave nature as is before we completely destroy not only our planet but the rest of the solar system, nay, universe as well.

    man is a nuisance. he eats up his food supply in the forest, then migrates to our green belts and ravages our crops. the sooner he is exterminated, the better.

    beware the beast man, for he is the devil’s pawn. alone among god’s primates, he kills for sport or lust or greed. yea, he will murder his brother to possess his brother’s land. let him not breed in great numbers, for he will make a desert of his home and yours. shun him; drive him back into his jungle lair, for he is the harbinger of death.

  43. Anonymous says

    Assuming that humanity ever develops the technology to make travel to Mars feasible, and then makes it dependable and routine, and develops the technology to terraform Mars, what makes anyone think that Earth has the resources to do the job? We can’t even manage to provide adequate nutrition and a healthy water supply to millions of people now, and our population will doubtless be vastly more by the time the technologies relative to Mars are developed. I think we are talking science-fiction-addict pipe dreams here.

  44. What Now says

    I read an article about this over 20 years ago. Since that time other big problems have been discovered that make terraforming Mars more difficult. Even if we could establish a denser atmosphere there and then over centuries modify it by using microorganisms Mars lacks a strong magnetic field and it’s gravity couldn’t retain the gasses indefinately. Maybe Mars has extended the lifetime of it’s atmosphere that it does have because it periodically freezes onto the surface. Anyway, aside from the UV radiation that would still reach the surface water vaper would break down into oxygen and hydrogen in the upper atmosphere and the hydrogen would leak into space. I read that this is happening to water vapor on Venus because Venus lacks a strong magnetic field as well. Wouldn’t our efforts to build an atmosphere be a losing situation, sort of like constantly having to inflate a tire that has a slow leak?

  45. The one part everyone seems to miss on this subject is Mars no longer has a liquid spinning core, so it produces a very little magnetic field.
    Any atmosphere we try to create on Mars will just float off into space.

  46. Anonymous says

    All things Mars have zero value until processed here on Earth. Whether that thing be in the form of data/information, exotic mining products or a cool five pound meteorite specimen for someone’s desk.

  47. Xybex R&D says

    Everyone clings to Earth like it’s a giant security blanket, sucking their big thumbs. We need to grow up, after all, the Andromeda Galaxy is approaching at 300,000mph. If we have any doubts at all, watch this YouTube vid: The Future of The Milky Way 8/11 (by Obelisk155).

  48. Xybex R&D says

    We back up data proactively, why aren’t we making backups of planet Earth?

  49. Prabhu DC says

    If the Neanderthal, Australopithecus, Homo Erectus. . . planed to stick to Africa, we wouldn’t be reading this blog, would we. . .

    If we dream of inter-galactic voyages some day, we better get started with learning to live on other worlds. It would make sense though to terraform Mars in a way by not impacting the indigenous and rather learning to coexist with them.

  50. Xybex R&D says

    Photo: “Death Star” Galaxy Found Blasting Smaller Neighbor.

  51. Xybex R&D says

    You mean, can we watch The Ball drop on Mars, on New Years? Will it drop? Can it drop?
    Watch the results on Fear Factor…LOL.

  52. Xybex R&D says

    Well, at least I’m comforted by the thought that there is NO RENT to pay, ever, on Mars. No nothing…Utopia.

  53. Leave it alone. We’ve done enough harm to our planet in the name of “progress.” Let’s leave our mitts off the rest of the universe.

  54. Anonymous says

    The idea of leaving Mars alone even if it turns out to be lifeless is silly. Pristine and unique alien environments (untouched by us nasty, evil humans) aren’t exactly scarce given the size of the universe. While we so diligently respect the integrity of the Martian environment, it’s surface is getting pounded (or should I say violated, raped?) by whatever space debris gets caught in its gravity well. This space debris is as alien to the Martian surface as is our own probes.

    Lifelessness isn’t a scarce thing either. It’s easy enough to find. Just go a few hundred miles straight up and you will find an abundance of it. Life is very scarce. Complex multi-celled life is scarcer still. There’s no guaranty that the abundant complex multi-celled life on earth will always be there. One collision with a sufficiently large asteroid can snuff it out. This could happen while our civilization is caught in a dark age (or during a period of tight fiscal budgeting, or a global war) without any technological means to prevent it. Complex life here is endangered in the long term. Endangered life should be preserved.

    Spreading earth’s life to the Martian surface (especially if it was lifeless to begin with) is an improvement. Two worlds rich with life is better than one. If you’re pining away for pristine lifeless worlds, go visit an asteroid. There are plenty of them.

  55. Anonymous says

    thanks all. great reading. some really funny stuff in here.

  56. jeff says

    Interesting article… If only I could live for thousands of years, maybe i would at one point be able to witness what happens…

  57. Anonymous says

    “It has also been suggested that Martian caves would make ideal human habitats, serving as natural protection from the harsh conditions on the surface.”

    [] Primitive men are said to have evolved into intelligent Homo sapiens, having emerged from the dim-light of caves, in primordial wilds of their early history on Earth ( a little liberal license here ): How ironic, then, would it be, if emissaries of humanity should come to descend like gods from the skies of Mars ( to settle its desolate alien expanses ), in culmination of long epic journey of Scientific and Technological advancement, which saw them rise on pillars of fire, and reach the dazzling heights of interplanetary travel, only to then witness this first adventurous generation of “off-world” representatives born of enlightenment – trek back into the dark interiors of another world’s caves!

    Homo Sapien ( “wise man” ), will then have undergone another giant transformational – space crossing – leap, to become Homo Cavernous ( “cave-dwelling man” ).

    What progress that would trumpet to the Universe!

    [] Listen! Be amazed! In sound of mighty drum-roll, a deep voice is heard with drama-raising thunder: “From another world they came!”

    ( Oohs and aahs are heard from those standing by. )

    “For what lofty purpose?” distant, shouting voices ask, electrified, with minds held amazed. “Why,” the unseen narrator excitedly, and triumphantly exclaims ( as palpable suspense builds among ranks of observers, near and far, eagerly awaiting reply ), “to enter Martian caves!”

    ( Long pause, wide-spread looks of perplexity … )

    Finally, the silence is broken with a barely audible response, heavy with disappointment, “O.” – as the light fades.

    Epilogue: “From the caves he came, and back to the caves he has gone.”

  58. Terraforming Mars will require a huge source of energy; the aneutronic fusion is the most promising candidate because helium-3 can be mined on Moon and boron-11 can be found on Mars to power the terraforming and spaceships for interplanetary round trips. If self-sustaining colonies become real, it will be amazing for us.

  59. Anonymous says


  60. Anonymous says

    There are gazillions of gazillions stars, planets and moons in the universe. Surely for the bleeding hearts extracting resources from other planetary bodies is a better option as a method for preserving earth?

    Or do you really think leaving a lifeless planet lifeless is far more important than expanding mans horizons and search for knowledge. Its time to wake up from this fatalistic impulse to believe the universe is better off without mankind.

    Terraform away…..

  61. Chris Billington says

    So much misanthropy in this thread!

    We care about the environment on Earth because of its effect on life, particularly humans — not because of any inherent right a planet has to not be polluted by evil dirty humans. The planet doesn’t have feelings you know.

    Those saying that humans shouldn’t terraform mars because it would be us just damaging another planet all over again I think are missing the point of environmentalism.

  62. GOGU says

    no we should not. We better stay nice & quiet on our small planet waiting for a doom`s rock to hit us.

  63. Xybex R&D says

    The timeline for the collision/merger with the Andromeda has been bumped up significantly from an initial 7 billion years, to 5 billion, and now stands at 2 billion years. The merger itself will take place over 100 million years. But, life on Earth will extinguish in about 500 million to
    1 billion years, when all the water in the oceans will have evaporated–lost to space forever–and temperatures will be at 150 degrees F, or hotter.

  64. Xybex R&D says

    HIP 13044 is an extra-galactic Star belonging to a Dwarf galaxy which was cannibalized by our Milky Way Galaxy, the remnants of which are now called the Helmi Stream. We can now witness firsthand what happens when a Star has passed the Red Dwarf stage. Scientists believe several planets were engulfed during its expansion. A lone Jupiter-like planet HIP 13044b remains. What is its fate? It too will be swallowed by its Star once it stops contracting and begins to expand again. We can expect the same to happen to our Sun (a medium size star) and the innermost planets–Venus, Mercury, Earth. Mars may not be engulfed, but it will be a singed remnant.

  65. Xybex R&D says

    Radioactive Cobalt seems to be the missing ingredient in Mars’ core. Cobalt 57, with a half-life of 271.79 days, has to be added to keep its Geodynamo going, after it’s rekindled.

    Current models of the planet’s interior imply a core region about 1794 ± 65 km in radius, consisting primarily of iron and nickel with about 16–17% sulfur.[30] The Earth’s core consists of iron, nickel and radioactive cobalt.

    Farming on Mars: “The minimum presence of Cobalt in soils therefore markedly improves the health of grazing animals, and an uptake of 0.20 mg/kg a day is recommended.”

    Worldwide production of Cobalt was 88,000 metric tons. Worldwide reserves are estimated to be 7.3 million metric tons.

    Metallic meteorites are also a dependable source of cobalt. Filling Martian craters with water will catch many of these micrometeorites which originate from the Asteroid Belt.

    • Xybex R&D says

      Correction: Cobalt 60 with a half-life of 5.27 years is most stable. And, adding Uranium 238 which has a half-life of 1.41×1017 seconds (4.468×109 years, or 4.468 billion years), ensures the Geodynamo is bubbling hot for a few billion years.

  66. Xybex R&D says

    Uranium 238 decays, through alpha-emission, with a half-life of 4.5 billion years to thorium-234.

  67. Xybex R&D says

    Cobalt stays magnetic to the highest temperature of all the magnetic elements (it has a Curie point of 1121 C.

  68. Anonymous says

    Anyone who still thinks that we have no need to get off this planet should read ‘Lucifer’s Hammer’, by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. We need to spread our eggs across as many baskets as we can find, make, or terraform.

  69. HeadAroundU says


  70. Reece Jones says

    It depends on what there is on the planet. If there is life, however primitive, we should find a way to preserve it.

  71. kristoffer9475 says

    Sure we should do this. This is an opportunity to start a new life, start over again

    We have a 2nd chance

  72. Al Marani says

    I’m amazed at how many comments this story has garnered. Good job UT staff in getting people engaged!

    Insofar as the argument for or against terraforming ANY celestial body is concerned, the naysayers always seem to be the “we’ve already screwed up Earth, why chance doing the same thing elsewhere” gang. To these people, I always want to ask, have YOU made a mess of Earth? Have you made steps to ensure its future clean up and rehabilitation by embracing green technologies? Have you stopped producing waste and over-consuming (food, non-recyclables, etc)? Have you avoided adding to the growing population which is at the heart of the problem by not having children? If not, to damn the past few hundreds of generations for not knowing any better when you DO, but don’t stop yourself from being a part of the problem, makes your argument inherently hypocritical. Many many intelligent, forward thinking people are doing whatever they can to help fix the situation here on our little blue planet, but until there is a global paradigm shift away from consumerism and the “science” of making money, we will never stop the deteriorating effects of human society on Earth.

    That may suggest that terraforming Mars is cursed before it begins. The question is, should the decision to do this monumental thing actually come down, will it happen with the world moving forward eyes opened, or will we make the same mistakes again? By the time the process of making Mars even REMOTELY habitable was complete (assuming we can do the most basic, yet most problematic thing, which is getting a working, stable magnetic field up and running), another 3-400 years of knowledge will be amassed. Look at our progress as a people in the last 200 years alone. We went from a world where artificial light came from burning a candle to a people whose vehicles use arcing electricity suspended in inert gasses to light up the roads we’ve laid. We went from a race who believed that the bright lights in the night sky were deities to a society which can send man-made objects with advanced optics, sensors, and communications technologies to those same lights and study them for science. We took an abacus, and turned it into the thing you’re using now to read comments submitted by people on all sides of this tiny world we call home. What will we be capable of in 2312, or 2412? Space stations, biodomes, a rag tag fleet running from a cylon attack? Should be a piece of cake.

    I think the prospect of Terraforming Mars is now, like so many things have been in the past, still in the realm of science fiction. That said, if it is POSSIBLE, it is first and foremost – as the author of this article is hinting – an ethical argument. The methods are conjecture. It will be many generations on, and if it is in fact a goal, we should be directing our efforts to making sure the men and women of tomorrow who will make it a reality do so not for monetary gain or greed, but for the further advancement of humanity. No scientific endeavour is a waste of time as some posters here have suggested (I don’t personally think old Sol is going Nova on us in the next billion or so years, and humanities chances of living to see it are slim at best). If it can be done, do it, but do it for the right reasons.

  73. Robert Gishubl says

    To me Mars is a great place to start practicing terraforming, we may even learn something to help with Earth. If there are a few bacteria somewhere in the soil that should not stop us terraforming it should just make us very very carefull on what we send back to earth. But before we start we need to know much more about the conditions on Mars and in particular is there life. If there is life it should not stop us unless it is sentinent and then that is a different ball game. To survive humanity needs to get off this one planet and diversify its habitat, first step is different locations in the solar system then interstellar travel and planet around other stars. We will neeed practice before we head for the stars and Mars is the best place to start.

  74. Steve Swihart says

    Wow, a lot of comments here.

    I’m going to make one that I haven’t seen. Assuming there is no life on Mars, I would argue that sending people 1-way with the intent of permanent habitation, after robotically delivering supplies, is a good idea. There’s the insurance argument – if colonists survive without need of supplies from Earth and human society is messed up beyond the ability to sustain industrialized populations, at least we’re technological and advanced somewhere.

    My primary point though is that often new thinking is rejected until it’s obviously good. Large corporations miss new trends all the time, the whole time saying that the new trends won’t matter, and basically resisting change. Music industry, typewriter industry, Kodak, etc.

    Societies do this too – they don’t adapt to new models. Think of how long it took the West to get around to getting rid of monarchies and mutual treaties, or how long it took the EU to be created, or how long it took to allow women to vote in much of the West.

    Often someone doing it far better is the catalyst suck people need to change.

    So people sent to Mars might think entirely differently – they might figure out how to live sustainably because they don’t really have much choice. They might come up with new social ideas on population control, government, criminal justice, etc.

    I don’t think it’ll happen soon due to the high cost and lack of any real will to explore on the part of most of the population.

  75. Xybex R&D says

    Let’s just grandfather everyone in….anyone born after 2015 is automatically a citizen of Mars. Or, let’s teach future generations to have 2 kids on Earth and the rest of the brood on Mars.

  76. Anonymous says

    If we determine to inhabit Mars then terra-forming must begin before large populations exist there. I would propose capturing icy comets, asteroids to break up and send them Mars ward to increase the amount of water there. One must assume that any extant Martian life arose during the time when Mars was already more earth-like and that life ifi it exists must be underground, incaves or in water bearing soil. I concur that we should protect any indigenous life forms but I not so sure we need to protect the harsh environment in general.

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