From February 27th to March 1st of this year, NASA’s Planetary Science Division (PSD) hosted an event at their Washington, DC headquarters. Called the “Planetary Science Vision 2050 Workshop”, it drew researchers and scientists from many fields around the globe. A collection of talks on the future of space exploration were presented over the five days of the event.
Wednesday’s presentations held one of the most interesting: A discussion of exploration of Mars by human astronauts. Calling itself “A Future Mars Environment For Science and Exploration”, the talk was held by Director Jim Green. In the lecture, he proposed possibilities for deploying a magnetic shield around Mars to enhance its atmosphere.
Scientists believe that Mars, like Earth, was once surrounded by a magnetic field that helped to protect its atmosphere. About 4 billion years ago, this magnetic field vanished — leading to Mars’ atmosphere being lost to space. In the next half-billion years, Mars became cold and uninhabitable.
ESA’s Mars Express and NASA’s MAVEN programs have recently confirmed this theory. Studying the Martian atmosphere since 2014, they’ve concluded that solar winds depleted Mars’ atmosphere. Currently, their probes are measuring how much is still being lost today.
Lacking an atmosphere, Mars is cold and uninhabitable. Any manned missions to the planet will face severe hazards. Radiation and asphyxiation are the biggest concerns for astronauts, much less colonizers.
Dr. Green and a group of fellow researchers presented a bold new idea: By erecting a magnetic dipole shield, an artificial atmosphere could be created. Over time, this would allow a regeneration of the planet’s atmosphere. Green had this to say about it:
“This new research is coming about due to the application of full plasma physics codes and laboratory experiments. In the future it is quite possible that an inflatable structure(s) can generate a magnetic dipole field at a level of perhaps 1 or 2 Tesla (or 10,000 to 20,000 Gauss) as an active shield against the solar wind.”
To test their theory, the research team used a specialized weather research center to conduct a series of simulations. They found that a dipole positioned at a certain point outside of Mars would nullify solar wind, leading to new opportunities for atmosphere regeneration. Over time, Mars’ atmosphere would thicken and become viable for human exploration and colonization.
After his calculations, Green had this to say: “A greatly enhanced Martian atmosphere, in both pressure and temperature, that would be enough to allow significant surface liquid water would also have a number of benefits for science and human exploration in the 2040s and beyond. Much like Earth, an enhanced atmosphere would: allow larger landed mass of equipment to the surface, shield against most cosmic and solar particle radiation, extend the ability for oxygen extraction, and provide ‘open air’greenhouses to exist for plant production, just to name a few.”
This change in conditions would allow humans to explore the planet in much greater detail. Over time, the entire landscape of the planet would change, possibly making it available for cultivation. Green and his researchers plan to review their results and analyze them further, to make an assessment of how long these changes might take.
See the article that inspired this one here
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