Over the years, SpaceX successfully reduced the cost of space travel, reused a rocket, and created space tourism. However, the biggest goal – colonizing Mars – still seems like a distant dream to many. Yet, Elon Musk keeps coming up with ideas on traveling, terraforming, and living on the Red Planet. For years ago on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert,” Musk discussed the strategy of nuking Mars to terraform it. Recently, this concept came back, shocking the public and creating a lot of controversies. So, is nuking Mars the best way to make it suitable for humans? Will it even work? And finally, how far can humans go to change the environment?

How Nuking Mars can change its climate?

Musk plans to detonate nuclear bombs over Red Planet’s poles. This would vaporize the ice caps, liberating water and carbon dioxide. Those two are potent greenhouse gases, so as a result, the planet would start warming. Furthermore, nuclear fusion would create artificial suns by very low fallout explosions above the atmosphere. But like our Sun, this would not cause Mars to become radioactive.

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In 2019, when asked about the risk of that project, Musk tweeted“Not risky imo & can be adjusted/improved real-time. Essentially need to figure out most effective way to convert mass to energy, as Mars is slightly too far from this solar system’s fusion reactor (the sun)”. After that, however, many controversies are aroused from the public and scientists regarding it.

Nuking Mars to make it habitable
Terraforming Mars to make it habitable by humans


First of all, a recent study published in Nature Astronomy suggests that this strategy might not work. Team members concluded that there is not enough CO2 to create significant changes in the climate, even if all of it were liberated. Moreover, the team also proved that water vapor should not be considered as a potential warmer. “Previous models of atmospheric warming have demonstrated that water cannot provide significant warming by itself; temperatures do not allow enough water to persist as vapors without first having significant warming by CO2“.

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They also concluded that terraforming Mars using today’s technology is not possible. In addition, this project can be more dangerous than it seems. Despite lack of effects, it can trigger the event we know as “nuclear winter,” when dust and particles block parts of sunlight (a similar asteroid impact killed the dinosaurs). But despite all controversies, Musk seems to be very sure about that idea (there is even a T-shirt!).

Is Nuking Mars An Option To Terraform It ? 2

The SpaceX Dream

Musk wants to make Mars suitable for humans, and this for sure requires unusual groundbreaking solutions. It seems like nuking the Red Planet will not be the successful one. However, SpaceX will keep on trying. In 2017 he believed there would be a city on Mars in less than a century. In addition, the idea of nuking Mars also awoke the controversy on how far Musk will go to achieve the SpaceX goals and where is the border of human intervention in the planet’s natural climate.

Is Nuking Mars An Option To Terraform It ? 3

Alternatives to nuking

The idea of nuking Mars shall require about 3000 nukes every day for about seven weeks long duration. Is it feasible? No! because even before we get finished with this project, we will run out of nuclear fuel (for nukes).

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This raises the need for alternatives to nuking mars, and one of the options could be planting genetically engineered photosynthetic organisms and melting the polar ice caps using methods other than nuking. This could be one way of greening Mars. In addition, given microbes’ hardy nature, genetically engineered micro-organisms can be released on Mars to create a breathable atmosphere via microbe’s photosynthesis.

Throwing massive asteroids at the red planet could be another way to transform its environment, just like one of the theories that predict the present climate of Earth due to bombardment by massive asteroids. A third way could be focussing sun rays on Mars using massive space mirrors to heat the planet and evaporate CO2 gas. This would lead to the greenhouse effect on Mars. Or we can just set up few industries on this red planet to produce sufficient greenhouse gases and heat it.

With the pace at which science and technology are growing, it won’t be long when we actually colonize Mars. But is nuking a good option for that? Let’s hope that science finds better alternatives to terraform Mars soon.

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Arthur Mather
Arthur Mather

The Martian gravity is insufficient to retain any significant atmosphere. Colonisation would have to be based on enclosed bubbles, either as surface structures or subsurface cavities. But that could equally and more easily and cheaply be done on earth if the atmosphere, or other conditions, became toxic.


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Even if it were possible to ‘create’ an atmosphere, Mars lacks the requisite magnetosphere to secure it.

Carol Combs
Carol Combs
Reply to  Tom

I have pondered over this, Mars has a mantel that is stagnant, and liquid hot lava flowing around it, the iron core is not very big, however what about a natural venting from the lava steam and heat, have no clue about the iron core, but in time we can probably come up with a solution artificially that could produce a magnetosphere to secure it. Within every problem there is a solution. Mars is not a horrible place to try out some of the ideas mentioned.

Michael Alexander Thornton

The greenhouse gases from the factories and the mirrors are pretty good ideas. After that you might need some other precautionary things in place should something go wrong with the mirrors. Doesn’t Mars have a thin atmosphere? Mars might very well be the new promised land.

Tas D
Tas D

Hi to all those that are interested in terraforming Mars.
First of all what is needed is to determine if there is already intellect and non intellect alien life forms either in or on Mars. If there is any alien life forms either in or on Mars, then it would not be right to terraform Mars. On the other hand if there is no complex in size alien life form in or on Mars except simple cell organisms, then I don’t think using nuclear bombs to nuke Mars would be a good idea and that is because nuclear bombs will radiate Mars with radiation. Just because using nuclear bombs on another planet doesn’t mean to say that the other planet won’t become radiated with radiation because it will. I guess the best method is a combination of industrial plants and genetically engineered plants and photosynthetic organisms like in the above explanations and then we let time do the rest. Who knows maybe after all that trying to terraform Mars in our far distant future technology will advance at a certain point that terraforming Mars will then take less of the time for Mars to be terraform.

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