Transforming Mars to make it more livable for humankind could involve creating an artificial magnetosphere for the Red Planet.
This idea has been suggested by a team of researchers, presenting the concept at the Planetary Science Vision 2050 Workshop 2017 being held this week in Washington, D.C.
Arid and cold
Their paper – A Future Mars Environment for Science and Exploration – notes that today, that planet is an arid and cold world with a very thin atmosphere that has significant frozen and underground water resources.
Mars’ thin atmosphere not only prevents liquid water from residing permanently on its surface and makes it difficult to land missions since it is not thick enough to completely facilitate a soft landing.
The research paper, led by James Green, Director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters, explains that when Mars lost its protective magnetosphere, three or more billion years ago, the solar wind was allowed to “directly ravish” the Red Planet’s atmosphere.
A new approach to greatly enhance Mars’ atmosphere to a higher pressure and temperature can be appraised by a number of existing simulation tools that reproduce the physics of the processes that model today’s Martian climate.
A series of simulations can be used, the research team asserts, to assess how best to largely stop the solar wind stripping of the Martian atmosphere and allow the atmosphere to come to a new equilibrium.
Models hosted at the Coordinated Community Modeling Center (CCMC) can be used to simulate a magnetic shield, and an artificial magnetosphere, for Mars. The CCMC is situated at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
“My approach was to see if we could force nature to do it,” NASA’s Green told Inside Outer Space. “It will be a progress report. But we have some fascinating results already,” he said.
That modeling involves generating a magnetic dipole field at the Mars L1 Lagrange point within an average solar wind environment.
New research is starting to emerge revealing that a miniature magnetosphere can be used to protect humans and spacecraft.
In the future it is quite possible, the research team suggests, 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.
“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,” the researchers explain.
“Open air” greenhouses
An enhanced Mars atmosphere, among a list of benefits, 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.
“These new conditions on Mars would allow human explorers and researchers to study the planet in much greater detail and enable a truly profound understanding of the habitability of this planet,” the research team concludes. “If this can be achieved in a lifetime, the colonization of Mars would not be far away.”