“Our neighboring planet doesn’t seem particularly homely: Mars has an average temperature of -62°C and an atmosphere so thin that if you stood on it unprotected, your saliva would boil away to nothing.“
Do you think we can terraform Mars? Mars is the nearest world that mankind will eventually visit, but the whole possibility of terraforming is much more challenging than what we did here on Earth.
With its recognizable, but longer four seasons, the clouds, the big polar ice caps, the rough mountains, the ancient river beds, and especially the dormant volcanoes, Mars is a new world, but it is stranger than fiction with a cold, dry climate with temperatures that can reach up to 80°F. Many experts and scientists believe that there were once similar conditions on Mars and Earth billions of years ago.
Their long studies suggest that the planet may have been warmer, wet climate with some traces of water such as lakes, rivers, and even an ancient sea during its early history, and soon collapsed into a dead and lifeless desert. The Olympus Mons (Olympic Mountain) that rises up to 78,000 feet above its surface was higher than Mt. Everest, with a very strange pockmarked face shaped by thousands of meteorites over the span of years of its existence.
The Mars Pathfinder lander and its rover, Sojourner, went down to the edge of an outflow channel known as Ares Vallis on July 4, 1997, and from it, they acquired additional information about rocks, soils, and the atmosphere of Mars. Also, it successfully sent back the first live images and pictures of the planet’s topography. Their analysis shows that its reddish surface pointed out the presence of oxidized iron, indicating that it is rusting. They discovered that the Martian atmosphere easily fluctuates due to extreme atmospheric turbulence. It easily changes from 30°F – 40°F (17°C – 22°C) in just a matter of minutes, by rapid changing patterns of climate, strong and gusty wind that rapidly spread all the warm air or cold air from one region to another. The Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft which was launched on November 7, 1996, and reached Mars’ orbit on September 11, 1997, discovered that the Northern hemisphere was exceptionally flat, with some slopes and surface roughness increasing towards its equator.
So here we go.
Can we terraform Mars?
Terraforming is the planetary engineering designed to enhance the capacity of an extraterrestrial planetary environment to sustain life, but the question is, “Is it possible?”
The answer to this is simple, we can’t do it with our current technology, but this will be possible in the future. Much of the ideas and information that we get about terraforming Mars came from science fiction books both old and new. But to be realistic, Mars isn’t built like that, and it is totally different from Earth, which was designed for life to exist.
When it comes to sustaining and protecting life, Earth is just the right size. Not only having the right size, but it is also just the right distance from the sun, but our sun is also the right type of star, and our own atmosphere has many rare features. If the planet were much smaller, and farther from the sun, it would not exert enough gravitational pull to keep all the atmospheric gases from drifting off to space. Mars is only about half the size of Earth, and far away from the habitable zone. As a result, it has a delicate and thinner atmosphere that leaks, with a much colder temperature.
Zach Dickeson, a Ph.D. researcher explains that,
“If a human were dropped onto the surface of Mars right now, their saliva would boil away from their mouth. They also would not have enough oxygen to breathe. If we wanted to live there, we would have to wear a pressurized suit.
To successfully walk on the Martian surface unaided, humans would need to create an atmosphere similar in composition and thickness to that of Earth.”
While all of life including humanity couldn’t live without the sun, the vast amount of energy the star expels could also completely obliterate life in the solar system which is also true elsewhere in the Cosmos. Thanks to a combination of Earth’s atmosphere and a magnetic shell known as the magnetosphere, we don’t have to worry much about subatomic particles or UV radiation bombarding us. Since Mars has a thin atmosphere and no magnetic fields, what looks like it could have been a cradle for life is, in fact, a barren, uninhabitable landscape, even at the beginning of its existence.
Is there life on Mars?
Possibly the answer is no, but we have still more time to find out if there is really life out there without a contaminant from Earth. NASA Curiosity Rover unearthed some organic matter back in June 2018, and it is said to be 3 billion years old and was found in Gale Crater — believed to once contain a shallow lake the size of Florida’s Lake Okeechobee.
The material was discovered by the Mars Curiosity rover, which has been collecting data on the Red Planet since August 2012. However, there appear many problems here. What they found out are just organic molecules but not something in a molecular form that is important for life. What’s more, organic doesn’t necessarily mean biological. Organic entails “containing carbon,” but organic molecules can have biological or non-biological origins.
Martian rocks do not have all of the same components as Earth’s soil. In fact, the rocks on Mars are almost entirely made up of mineral matter, with small amounts of water, and that is the evidence that biological life does not exist on Mars, which is contrary to the majority who claimed that there is.
In fact, what Mars really has is regolith.
Soil, by definition, includes organic matter. Since there is no organic matter on Mars, there is technically no soil.
The proper term for the surface material of Mars is regolith, which is a broad term for the loose material that covers the surface of some planets (Earth, Mars, Mercury) and Earth’s moon. Soil is a type of regolith. Scientists commonly refer to Martian “soil” despite this technical difference.
The mineral matter in Martian soil comes from weathered volcanic rock. It has clay and silt-sized particles, but it is overall sandy soil. There is also a thin surface layer of very small dust particles. The soil has a reddish color because it contains a lot of iron oxides (rust). It is similar to iron-rich volcanic soils on Earth. In fact, the NASA team has made a Mars soil simulant that comes from volcanic soil in Hawaii. In contrast to Earth, the soil on Mars is relatively homogenous (the same everywhere), because global dust storms move the soil around the planet.
Earth has a lot of water in oceans, lakes, and rivers, and precipitation is common. In contrast, Mars is extremely dry. It has solid water ice, but very little liquid water. No water-based precipitation reaches the planet’s surface. This means that the soil on Mars is also extremely dry, containing just 2% water.
Just as the news article at Science said, “Only a few of the organic molecules, sulfur-bearing carbon rings called thiophenes, were abundant enough to be detected directly,” Eigenbrode says.
That’s a long long way from finding, say, amino acids or nucleotides. In fact, thiophenes are pretty simple molecules that are just a 5-sided carbon ring, but with a sulfur molecule replacing a carbon atom. The fact the article admits that these simple molecules may have been caused by natural processes and may not appeal to biology:
“It’s impossible to say whether ancient life explains the Martian organics, however. Carbon-rich meteorites contain kerogen-like compounds, and constantly rain down on Mars. Or reactions driven by Mars’s ancient volcanoes could have formed the compounds from primordial carbon dioxide.“
Not only that but all the required chemical elements should also be present in sufficient abundance on a planet, in order for life to exist and thrive. Also, there are no stable solid surfaces on which to concentrate and construct the delicate and information-rich molecules of life. In fact, bacterias were discovered to rely on Rare Earth Elements.
“Jetten, Op den Camp, Pol, and co-workers reported in 2014 an essential dependence of methanotrophic bacterium on LREs [“light” rare earths, belonging to the Cerium group]. They rationalized this requirement by the replacement of the generally encountered Ca2+ cation by a LRE3+ cation in the active site of the methanol dehydrogenase (MDH) enzyme (61, 62).”
Following that discovery, RE-dependent bacteria have been found in many environments on Earth and have initiated a new field of research and show how unlikely life exists elsewhere.
Are we alone in the Universe?
Probably many will say no to this question, but take the moment to open up both of those perspectives as we look for answers for the meaning of life. Every question matters and one question is not yet being discussed openly: “What is the likelihood of us being alone in the Universe? Is there any evidence for extraterrestrial life?”
As of this moment, absolutely nothing. The evidence on which the near-consensus of every scientist and expert who believed that we are not alone is zero. Nada. Non-existent. There’s not a shred of evidence for life anywhere but Earth. What little passes for evidence — the discovery of extra-solar Earth-like planets and of proteins — is meaningless unless we know that answer to the question: How did life arise on Earth, and how can life arise elsewhere?
We know nothing about the source of life on Earth, and fanciful theories don’t count. A posteriori reasoning (the scientific method) depends on evidence first and foremost. And we have no evidence for extraterrestrial life and no idea how life arose in the only place we know — Earth.
In fact, the new study from Oxford researches had done a new analysis of the Drake Equation, and here they include the range of possible answers to the Drake Equation equals 1 – meaning that humanity is the only technological civilization in the known universe. They write:
“When the model is recast to represent realistic distributions of uncertainty, we find a substantial ex-ante probability of there being no other intelligent life in our observable universe, and thus that there should be little surprise when we fail to detect any signs of it.“
Fermi was musing that, given millions of years of spacefaring technology, a civilization in our galaxy could have explored and even settled the entire galaxy. The universe is 13.7 billion years old, and our galaxy, the Milky Way, is almost as old (13.5 billion years). There are an estimated 2 trillion galaxies in the observable universe. That is a lot of time for any civilization to explore and spread out. So why aren’t we seeing them?
Anyone could argue that – we only have a sample size of one, but new research indicating phosphorus is hard to come by in the cosmos. The problem lies in the fact that phosphorus (the P in the ubiquitous energy-carrying ATP molecule you learned about in high school biology class) is created only in the right kind of supernovae, and there just isn’t enough to go around, while the chances for even a single protein to arise has been estimated at about 10^-70, and a simple replicating system at 10^-1018.
“The route to carrying phosphorus into newborn planets looks rather precarious. We already think that only a few phosphorus-bearing minerals that came to the Earth — probably in meteorites — were reactive enough to get involved in making proto-biomolecules. If phosphorus is sourced from supernovae, and then travels across space in meteoritic rocks, I’m wondering if a young planet could find itself lacking in reactive phosphorus because of where it was born? That is, it started off near the wrong kind of supernova? In that case, life might really struggle to get started out of phosphorus-poor chemistry, on another world otherwise similar to our own.“
However, the truth is, if there are no other aliens out there, we will never know the full answer. We would only have increasingly negative evidence and the sense that we are alone, not until we have evidence to say so.
This might be the reason why we should colonize other planets beyond ourselves as Elon Musk said:
“This is why we must preserve the light of consciousness by becoming a spacefaring civilization & extending life to other planets.“
So what will be our plan?
All life including Humans are like eggs, we are so fragile that all should be carefully planned from the beginning up to its execution, to safely carry them throughout the area of the Universe within the reach of humanity. If we are alone in the Universe, then it will drive us more with endless passion to explore the Cosmos, but we will have to accept that there will be risks by doing such great sacrifices.
We can still colonize Mars and reach the moons of Jupiter and beyond. But let’s assume that humanity’s future rockets and technology will meet the ultimate level of interstellar travel. With all of these advances, how far from Earth could we possibly get?
The answer is quite big but still small. In fact, humanity will only ever get to explore the local group or as far as our Supercluster. We will have more colonies orbiting planets than those who are on the planets forming exotic groups all positioned to the star, possibly building more and more places for themselves as they co-exist with tool A.I.s to harness the computational capacity of the entire reachable part of the Universe.
A Light-year is a measurement of distance. Light travel at approximately 186,000 miles per second, so a light-year is the distance light travels in one year, and that is about 5.9 trillion miles.
Our galaxy in which our planet Earth is found is in the Milky Way Galaxy which is incredibly huge. It contains between 100 – 400 billion stars, and possibly the same amount of planets. Its diameter is between 170,000 – 200,000 light-years. But it is not yet the end. We have our own local groups as well that we can easily access, but our local group is just 0.00000000001 percent of the entire observable Universe.
While the majority of these groups will move away, the galaxies inside our group will come together to form ‘Brobdingnagian galaxy (Milkdromeda)’, a combination of our galaxy and Andromeda.
Our Milky Way is part of what is known as the Laniakea Supercluster, a massive collection of about 100,000 galaxies much like the Milky Way which stretches out over 520 million light-years, which if you use miles it is about 3.481×10^2, a number so big even in our calculators! To travel from one side of the Supercluster to another would take another 520 million years even if you are traveling at the speed of light. To travel back now is impossible. That means if we ever get to the point where we reached our Supercluster, and some are still living in Brobdingnagian, they’ll look out at the Universe and see nothing but darkness, but that is worth it. By that time we may have trillions of exotic civilizations living in distance, and still, there is plenty of time to enjoy it for another billion years. We may bring Earth’s soil to improve the regoliths of every planet to eventually plant and maintain the existence of life in the Universe.
The Soils of Mars: Physical, Elemental, and Mineralogical Properties – American Society of Agronomy, the Crop Science Society of America and the Soil Science Society of America (Retrieved January 19, 2017). This abstract is a scientific presentation from November 9, 2016, that detailed the properties of Martian soil.
Plants’ nutrient requirements – Espace Pour la Vie in Montreal (Retrieved January 19, 2017). This webpage lists the role of all 16 essential plant nutrients.