Scientists have come up with an ingenious new way of bringing Mars back to ‘life’. Experts want to create an artificial magnetic field in the orbit between Mars and the Sun in order to protect the planet’s atmosphere and create a more favorable environment for future human explorers. “Perhaps one-seventh of the ancient ocean could return to Mars,” scientists said.
NASA scientists say that even though the red planet had a magnetic field, around 4.2 billion years ago it shut down.
According to scientists, Mars once had an atmosphere very similar to Earth. The slow destruction of our neighbor’s planet atmosphere was caused by “huge rope-like tendrils of magnetic rotations”. The red planet’s once hospitable atmosphere was blown away in the distant past. The process of Mars losing its precious atmosphere most likely occurred over a period of several hundred million years. Scientists speculate that during this time, the red planet was hit by “extreme ultraviolet photons” from the sun. Before this happened, water was most likely abundant on the red planet and it is very likely that life as we know it could have developed on Mars.
It turns that over its long history, the red planet lost around 90 percent of its atmosphere. What remains today is carbon dioxide, while oxygen leaks from Mars’ atmosphere as solar winds strike the planet.
Without a ‘proper’ atmosphere, Mars would remain a dry, cold place where life is unable to exist. This represents the greatest difficulty facing future manned missions – which NASA plans to launch by 2030. Exposure to radiation and danger of dying from asphyxiation will be some of the dangers future Astronauts on Mars will face.
Now, in order to bring the red planet back to ‘life’, a group of scientists led by Dr. Jim Green, director of NASA’s Division of Planetary Science, have presented an ambitious plan. In essence, the proposal is to position a magnetic dipole at the Lagrange L1 point on Mars, generating an artificial “magneto-bridge” that would cover the entire planet and protect it from solar wind and radiation.
“It may be feasible that we can get up to these higher field strengths that are necessary to provide that shielding,” Green said. “We need to be able then to also modify that direction of the magnetic field so that it always pushes the solar wind away.”
Dr, Green and his colleagues are fully aware that they plan sounds easier than it actually is. Scientists argue that research on miniature magnetospheres (to shield crews and spacecraft) supports the concept, just on a larger scale.
“Perhaps one-seventh of the ancient ocean could return to Mars,” Green said.
“This is not terraforming as you may think of it where we actually artificially change the climate but we let nature do it, and we do that based on the physics we know today,” Green said. “This tells us that perhaps we don’t have all the physics in the model we need. We have a little more work in this area.”
Furthermore, scientists believe that this type of ‘shield’ could create a favorable environment that would help melt the water in Mars’ polar caps.
To test the idea, the team of researchers—who included scientists from the Ames Research Center, the Goddard Space Flight Center, the University of Colorado, Princeton University, and the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory—conducted a series of simulations for the suggested artificial magnetosphere, reaching the conclusion that it would effectively counteract solar radiation and create a balance in the Martian atmosphere, increasing the average temperature of the planet to 4ºC.
The latter would be sufficient to melt the ice of carbon dioxide present in the polar caps of the northern hemisphere. As a consequence, there would be a greenhouse effect that would further heat the atmosphere.
As reported by Inverse, experts found that increasing the magnetic dipole would stop solar wind stripping. However, increasing the surface pressure doesn’t have a large effect on Mars’s global temperature and it increases dust in the atmosphere. But in some cases, the equator heats up and the polar caps collapse, causing CO2 ice caps grow and stabilizing Mars’ climate.
“The solar system is ours,” Green said. “Let’s take it. And that of course means Mars, and for humans to be able to explore Mars together with us doing science, we need a better environment.”
Scientists have a new plan to bring mars back to life. Image credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser