Is Mars Habitable? Getting Ready to Reach the Red Planet
A slew of Hollywood blockbusters, sci-fi books, and conspiracy theories later, and we’re still wondering about the same thing — is Mars habitable? Indeed, for as long as they’ve existed, humans have been fascinated with the possibility of life on other planets. The universe is so vast and Earth is a mere speck of dust in it. We can’t be alone, right?
It just doesn’t add up. There are eight known planets in our solar system. Eight! And only one of them is habitable? If you ask some scientists or conspiracy theorists, this just seems far-fetched. Why can’t the Red Planet be home to some little green creatures… or to us? After all, Mars is similar to Earth. It also has seasons, volcanoes, polar ice caps, and weather.
So, it’s no wonder humans are obsessing over the hypothetical colonization of Mars. In fact, it seems like everyone has this planet on their mind. NASA is developing technology needed to send humans to Mars by the 2030s. SpaceX, however, is a bit impatient and wants to get there ever sooner, planning to have people on the Red Planet by 2024.
What does this all mean? Is Mars habitable or not? You’ll find the answer to this question in our article!
Is Mars Habitable?
At the moment, scientists say that Earth is the only habitable planet in our solar system. But don’t abandon hope just yet. Your dreams of taking a stroll down the Red Planet are not yet over. According to NASA, Mars is the most habitable planet in our solar system after Earth.
In fact, the rusty-red planet is similar to ours in so many ways. It boasts a number of the same “systems” that characterize Earth:
- An atmosphere,
- A hydrosphere,
- A cryosphere, and
- A lithosphere
To be more precise, the Red Planet has systems of air, water, ice, and geology. Together they produce that famous Martian environment.
Nevertheless, Mars is still a hostile world for humans. But that’s not stopping scientists from finding ways to make it more human-friendly. International companies and eccentric entrepreneurs are investing billions of dollars into exploration programs, hoping to make a breakthrough.
So, is Mars habitable? To answer your question — no, it’s not… at least not at the moment. However, experts have come up with many hypothetical procedures to try to fulfill people’s dreams of transforming Mars into a habitable planet.
But, before we go into them, let’s see why the Red Planet isn’t habitable now.
Why We Can’t Live on Mars
Humans have long dreamed of reaching Mars. The possibility of colonizing a planet is much more tempting than we’d like to admit. During our life-long quest to spread beyond Earth, scientists have researched the Red Planet and discovered many of its characteristics.
Conditions on the planet are similar to those on Earth. However, this doesn’t mean that seeing a human on Mars will happen soon. For the time being, sending the Mars rovers to the planet is a far better solution. If anything, these robots provide valuable information that help us understand Mars better than we had years ago.
Based on those data, we can surmise why we can’t live on Mars right now.
Mars is a cold world. Its temperature is much more freezing than that on Earth. This isn’t surprising. After all, the planet is farther from the Sun. So, humans wouldn’t be able to get used to its harsh weather.
Mars’s atmosphere is 100 times thinner than Earth’s. And Mars can’t retain heat without a thermal blanket. On average, its temperature plummets to minus 80 degrees Fahrenheit (around minus 60 degrees Celsius). During winter, the temperature can plunge to minus 195 degrees Fahrenheit (minut 125 degrees Celsius).
On the other hand, summers are a bit warmer on the Red Planet, reaching as much as 70 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius).
However, as the temperature is mostly freezing, humans wouldn’t be able to survive on Mars for more than a couple of hours.
Low Atmospheric Pressure
Is Mars habitable and why isn’t it? Well, another reason lies in its atmosphere which is composed of carbon dioxide, with surface pressure amounting to 600 pascals (Pa). This is much lower than the Earth’s which stands at 101,000 Pa. It is the low atmospheric pressure that poses the most immediate threat to people.
The Red Planet might look appealing from a far, but its surface isn’t safe for humans. Namely, the planet is covered with toxic dust. Scientists even say that people would die in a matter of weeks if they were exposed to this dust.
Mars has no protective magnetic field. Scientists believe that a dynamo effect ceased to exist on Mars 4.2 billions years ago. As a result, Mars lost its magnetic field and atmosphere. So, the planet is exposed to much higher levels of radiation than Earth. If you were to visit Mars, you’d experience cosmic rays and solar wind which your body wouldn’t be able to withstand.
We believe the aforementioned shows why our answer to “Is Mars habitable?” was negative. But let’s now take a look at some of the theories that could make colonization of Mars possible.
Theories About How to Make Mars Habitable
For as long as they can remember, people have dreamed of changing the climate on Mars to make it more livable. And the suggestions on how to do this have come from experts from all walks of life. Some of them have been groundbreaking, inspiring other scientists to try to fulfill people’s dream of making the planet habitable. Yet, these theories need to wait for a more advanced technology that might arrive in years to come.
For now, let’s look at the top two theories about how to make Mars habitable.
In 1971, astrophysicist Carl Sagan proposed a method that included terraforming Mars. In case you’re wondering, “terraforming” means transforming a hostile environment into one that would be suitable for humans. And before Sagan came forward with his suggestion, terraforming was mostly present in science fiction books. However, he saw the potential in this method, and wasn’t scared to explore it.
Sagan wanted to vaporize the northern polar ice caps. Explaining his theory, he said that the water vapor and CO2 emission could create a greenhouse effect. This would increase temperatures enough to allow for liquid water to exist on the planet.
But, researchers tested Sagan’s proposal, but the results weren’t promising. They concluded that the total yield wouldn’t make the planet habitable. In the end, they decided to shift their focus from planet-wide to regional. And that’s how the next theory came to life.
Taking a Targeted Approach
Although finding Sagan’s proposal groundbreaking, researchers at Harvard University and NASA determined that a more targeted approach would yield better results. That’s why they decided to see whether it’s possible to alter smaller sections of the planet rather than the whole thing. They only needed to carefully examine Mars for a light bulb to go on.
Upon closer inspection, they concluded that certain regions of Mars could become human-friendly with one material — silica aerogel. Using this material would create a solid-state greenhouse effect which would resemble that of Earth’s.
By mimicking the Martian surface, the researches showed that only a thin layer of silica aerogel could increase average temperatures on Mars to Earth-like temperatures.
Is Mars Habitable? Only Time Will Tell
Scientists agree on one thing — we’re still years away from creating viable habitats on other planets, including Mars. However, the two theories we’ve mentioned prove that humans are on the right track to make Mars their next home. At least we’re not centuries away from achieving this age-long dream. And if you ask us, that’s something to get excited about.
Don’t you agree?