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.
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.
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!).
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.
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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