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NASA Proposes Warming Mars 979

Posted by Hemos
from the kim-stanley-robinson-would-be-proud dept.
hotsauce writes "The Guardian reports a NASA scientist has proposed releasing a gas on Mars to start a global warming of the planet in order to make it more hospitable for life. No word on how much traction this has amongst geophysicists. I wonder how much simulation and testing you need before we feel safe about affecting an entire planet."
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NASA Proposes Warming Mars

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  • Easy! (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 07, 2005 @12:31PM (#11597976)
    Shouldn't be that hard considering how good us humans are at causing global warming!
    • Re:Easy! (Score:5, Funny)

      by I_Love_Pocky! (751171) on Monday February 07, 2005 @01:22PM (#11598678)
      Please, it is common knowledge amongst conservatives that humanity's ability to affect climate change on a global scale is a fairy tale. A fairy tale put forth by the liberal media to hurt American industry, leaving us ripe for communist invasion. Clearly we would have no chance of changing Mars's atmosphere either. Liberal wackos.
      • Re:Easy! (Score:3, Funny)

        by EpsCylonB (307640)
        Honestly can't tell if your joking or not, and thats sad.
  • No ! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by mirko (198274)
    It's a virgin soil and it has to remain so : we have to much to learn about it instead of polluting it : When Mankind can prove it can live in equilibrium oni Earth, then it can spread elsewhere.
    • Re:No ! (Score:4, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 07, 2005 @12:37PM (#11598074)
      Right, because we absolutely cannot risk damaging the delicate ecosystem on Mars, thereby rendering the planet inhospitable for human life!
    • Re:No ! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by DrXym (126579) on Monday February 07, 2005 @12:37PM (#11598077)
      Virgin soil = rock dust. Assuming there to be no life on Mars, I don't get what the problem is with altering it. Now naturally if there is life that's a whole can of worms in itself, but if not, then what damn difference does it make?
      • Re:No ! (Score:5, Interesting)

        by darkmeridian (119044) <william@chuang.gmail@com> on Monday February 07, 2005 @12:51PM (#11598277) Homepage
        Well, you do not know if there's life unless and until you do research. What if you jump the gun and change Mars before you complete all research?

        Furthermore, there is research that could reveal the genesis of our solar system, planet, or universe up there on Mars. We should preserve it until we are sure that we need the planet populated or that we have exhausted all scientific exploration of Mars.
        • Re:No ! (Score:3, Insightful)

          by ChrisMaple (607946)
          We already know that we need to populate Mars, the sooner the better, as protection against a meteor strike wiping out humanity. There are plenty of other places to do research.
        • Re:No ! (Score:3, Insightful)

          by DrXym (126579)
          Who's jumping the gun? All I'm objecting to someone's the knee jerk reaction to any terraforming on the rather lame premise that Mars is "virgin soil".

          Any attempt to warm the planet would have to be preceded by dozens of missions and meticulous research and preparation before anyone had any clue whether it would be a worthwhile undertaking. Any biological or geological evidence would surely form part of that evaluation.

          My personal feeling is that it would not be worthwhile to warm Mars for hundreds of y

        • Join Now! (Score:3, Funny)

          by paranode (671698)
          I am starting the People Unified to Stop Science In Extraterrestrial Settings. Join today to help us stop this senseless disregard for possible microbial life on Mars! Life is life and we must preserve it to the end!
        • Re:No ! (Score:5, Insightful)

          by wass (72082) on Monday February 07, 2005 @02:02PM (#11599182)
          Well, you do not know if there's life unless and until you do research. What if you jump the gun and change Mars before you complete all research?

          Did you at least read the article? The slashdot writeup was sensationally misleading, as usual. Actually, here's some more info [nasa.gov] on the project, more than is in the Guardian link.

          Basically, it is NOT a proposal to warm Mars, it's a study exploring various ways that Mars COULD be heated, and how long such methods would take (conducted by an undergrad student at U. Mass). And they even acknowledge in that link that it would be significantly well into the future before any decision would every be implemented to try warming Mars, and at that point the method of using PFC's would probably be archaic compared to future technology.

          So keep your pantyhose on, NASA isn't trying to warm Mars, it's just a study. And in all likelihood it was an offshoot of various studies of global warming on Earth, in which case doing more planetary models of effects of PFCs, among others, would be a good thing!

      • Re:No ! (Score:5, Informative)

        by visgoth (613861) on Monday February 07, 2005 @12:56PM (#11598341)
        This exact debate was played out in the Red Mars Trilogy [amazon.com] of books. One faction wanted to leave Mars in its "pristine" state, while another wanted to make it habitable by humans. An interesting read, to say the least.
    • Re:No ! (Score:3, Funny)

      by martinde (137088)
      > When Mankind can prove it can live in equilibrium oni Earth, then it can spread elsewhere.

      What do we do when we prove we can't then?!
    • by momus_radar (668448) on Monday February 07, 2005 @12:45PM (#11598170)
      Please. Everyone knows Cohaagen doesn't want the reactor turned on because he's in the business of selling air.

      --
      Get your Ass to Mars!

    • Yes! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by RovingSlug (26517) on Monday February 07, 2005 @12:53PM (#11598291)
      There are plenty of other rocks ("virgin soil") to study in the solar system. This is a unique opportunity to advance science by actively terraforming Mars. We might also learn techniques to keep Earth habitable as it inevitably moves to a period with significantly less climate stablility -- it's done it before and it's about to (geologically speaking) do it again.

      When Mankind can prove it can live in equilibrium oni Earth, then it can spread elsewhere.

      Huh? That's suicidal. How about: until we prove we can live in equilibrium on a planet, we must spread elsewhere.

      By the way, living on a planet for geolocially long periods of time will require geologic action, not misguided, pristine inaction.

    • Re:No ! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by deft (253558) on Monday February 07, 2005 @01:00PM (#11598394) Homepage
      This comment sounds very "insightful", but so does alot of philosophy. Real life progress is never as cut and dry, and if this thinking had its way, we'd never get anything done.

      It ignores that fact there is no equilibrium on earth. It is constantly changing, and we are changing with it. It also assumes a tremendous value on "virgin soil" as if this one fact makes it better. And what is the value in waiting till we have mastered the earth to start looking at a completely different type of planet... this assumes the Earth data is going to apply to Mars somehow.

      This reminds me of the people that say that humans changing the earth aren't natural, therefore it's bad. I always have to wonder what about humans aren't natural, because we are exactly like every other creature on the planet. We have absolutely no choice but to act in our nature. Somewhere along the lines someone decided that if it changes the environment too much, then it's not "natural". This argument isn't sound, or I'd argue that beavers building huge dams and creating gigantic ponds/lakes/starting small ecosystems themsleves aren't "natural".

      Don't tell me now that beavers are ok because they look pretty natural doing it, but we as humans don't. Or, is it just us and the beavers now, screwing up the Earth for the whales?

      I wonder what point in human evolution we became "unnatural"; Was it the whole opposable thumb thing? Tools? Fire? The wheel? The premiere of "American Idol"? The fact is, all of it is natural, just not "woodsy" like wildlife lovers would like you to believe everything should be.

      But back to Mars; Sure, there might be something we could do with the soil on Mars that we can't get back if we make it habitable. On the flip side of that, what good is it if we really can't get to it for any meaningful amount of time?

      There's a balance between preserving samples so that they can be observed, and entering the environment and effecting it so that one can utilize the resources.

      Fact is there's going to be a balance... we're going to try things, and we'll not always be right, but we'll make progress and learn, and the "naturalist" will tell you it's never time to move forward. The guys at NASA aren't stupid, there will be alot of baby steps and testing before they decide to try anything.
      • Re:No ! (Score:3, Insightful)

        by rednip (186217)

        This comment sounds very "insightful", but so does alot of philosophy. Real life progress is never as cut and dry, and if this thinking had its way, we'd never get anything done.

        The very same can be applied to your comments themselves. I'll agree that in the larger sense we are 'natural', perhaps more correctly, 'acting in our nature', but the fact is - the Earth has been around for a long time before us, and will be here a long time after us. If we as a species what to exist for any long length of tim

    • Re:No ! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by 1u3hr (530656) on Monday February 07, 2005 @01:02PM (#11598412)
      It's a virgin soil and it has to remain so : we have to much to learn about it instead of polluting it

      Insightful?

      Terraforming Mars at the most optimistic will take centuries. During those centuries we'll have plenty of time to study Mars before there is any noticeable change. I submit that creating an ecosystem on a sterile planet, or one that harbours no multi-cellular life, as seems probable, is not polluting. In this case, the greenhouse would be literal: creating a warm hospitable environment to encourage life.

    • Re:No ! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by NanoGator (522640) on Monday February 07, 2005 @01:11PM (#11598531) Homepage Journal
      "It's a virgin soil and it has to remain so : we have to much to learn about it instead of polluting it : When Mankind can prove it can live in equilibrium oni Earth, then it can spread elsewhere."

      Who's to say that (evolution --or-- our maker, depending on your beliefs) didn't intend for us to do exactly that? I mean, think about it: While we're stuck on Earth, we are one nuclear war or asteroidal impact away from extinction. How do we know that we weren't (made --or-- evolved) for the purpose of having the intelligence we needed to eventually spread our civilization out to other planets? I mean, if we lived in equilibrium, why would we ever leave the planet? If we leave the planet, we could spread our influence out in a few directions, and possibly even exist to the end of time.

      You've gotta think about the bigger picture, here. You cannot assume we have an infinite time available on Earth to do our basic living.
      • Re:No ! (Score:3, Insightful)

        by j-turkey (187775)
        Who's to say that (evolution --or-- our maker, depending on your beliefs) didn't intend for us to do exactly that?

        Or, for that matter...who is to say that we even have a purpose?

      • Re:No ! (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Obfuscant (592200)
        "It's a virgin soil and it has to remain so : we have to much to learn about it instead of polluting it : When Mankind can prove it can live in equilibrium oni Earth, then it can spread elsewhere."

        Who's to say that (evolution --or-- our maker, depending on your beliefs) didn't intend for us to do exactly that?

        More importantly, who's to say that the condition it is in RIGHT NOW is the one, true condition that it must remain in for the remainder of our existance?

        People in general have this really sill

    • Ill admit, I didnt RTFA. But the general thing Im reading here is based on an AWEFUL lot of assumptions, most of which arent true.

      Terraforming another plante, sounds good on paper. But can we please pick a planet that is shielded from the solar wind so all the 'efforts' arent wasted away, or in this case blown away into outer space.

      Without an active magnetic field, the upper atmosphere of mars would be directly exposed to solar flares, radiation storms, etc. Which is why there is no atmosphere there now.
  • testing (Score:5, Funny)

    by kharchenko (303729) on Monday February 07, 2005 @12:31PM (#11597982)
    Ohh, just a few more decades and we'll have a viable test bed right here on earth.
  • by Hulkster (722642) on Monday February 07, 2005 @12:32PM (#11597985) Homepage
    Here's the original NASA article [nasa.gov] with a lot more details (no surprise!) than the Guardian ...

    BTW, Edgar Rice Burroughs would approve as the author of the John Carter of Mars [johncarterofmars.com] series of books which talked about life on the Red Planet.

    • A much more difficult task than terraforming Mars, conceptually, is terraforming Venus.

      Sci-fi authors have often implemented plot devices such as impacting ice-laden comets or moons into Venus to cool it, supply water, and spin it up; however this is fundamentally flawed, as the problem the amount of CO2. Furthermore, impacting a comet or moon will impart more energy than it would soak up. Now, perhaps with a large enough impact you could blast away part of Venus's atmosphere; however, this would need to
    • For an entertaining discussion of methods of terraforming Mars and the politics that go with them, see Red Mars [wikipedia.org] (1992), Green Mars [wikipedia.org] (1993) and Blue Mars [wikipedia.org] (1996) Kim Stanley Robinson [wikipedia.org], which scored a Nebula and two Hugos.
    • For even more "meaty" information, check out this research paper by McKay and Marinova from 2001, titled "The Physics, Biology, and Environmental Ethics of Making Mars Habitable" [liebertonline.com].

      Unfortunately, I don't think Marinova's latest paper on this is publically available on the internet.
  • Pipe Dream (Score:5, Informative)

    by stecoop (759508) * on Monday February 07, 2005 @12:32PM (#11597991) Journal
    It's been speculated for many years to reproduce gas emissions on Mars as we do on this planet. The atmosphere was thicker on Mars then it is now; yet you have to go back to the problem that caused the atmosphere to thin in the first place. As it turns out, the core of the planet slowed down or event stop spinning causing the magnetic field to disappear.

    Unless the core spins to shield the planet from the solar winds then anything done will only be temporary. The sun will simply blow off any thick atmosphere. Alas a pipe dream to teraform the whole planet unless you take some ideas from the movie Space Balls.

    • time scale (Score:5, Insightful)

      by kippy (416183) on Monday February 07, 2005 @12:36PM (#11598067)
      Unless the core spins to shield the planet from the solar winds then anything done will only be temporary. The sun will simply blow off any thick atmosphere.

      If you're willing to wait a few million years, sure.
    • Re:Pipe Dream (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 07, 2005 @12:40PM (#11598115)
      I guess thats why Venus' atmosphere is so tiny, its lack of magnetic field never allowed it to have one. Oh wait, it has an atmospheric pressure 90 times greater than Earth's, and all without a magnetic field.
      • Re:Pipe Dream (Score:3, Informative)

        Surface gravity is also much higher.
      • Re:Pipe Dream (Score:5, Informative)

        by stecoop (759508) * on Monday February 07, 2005 @12:57PM (#11598346) Journal
        It is known that at one time Mars had a magnetic field somewhat equivalent to Earth. Mars had a thicker atmosphere but nothing compared to the atmosphere of Venus. When the core of both planets stopped spinning; the atmosphere of one was wiped away while the other wasn't.

        Now let me speculate that the atmosphere of Venus is thick enough on it's own to prevent the solar winds from wiping it off the face while Mars never had such a thick atmosphere. Mars had to have the protection of a magnetic field to have an atmosphere.

        Very good data about the fields were found on a quick search: I like these two
        http://www-ssc.igpp.ucla.edu/personnel/russel l/pap ers/venus_mag/
        http://www-ssc.igpp.ucla.edu/perso nnel/russell/pap ers/mars_mag/
        • Gravity (Score:3, Interesting)

          by PsiPsiStar (95676)
          I don't think mars has enough gravity to hold molecular oxygen.

          On a related note, the Earth doesn't have the gravity to hold Hydrogen or Helium. I've always imagined that the stuff probably boils off at a rate that varies with the amount of water in the upper atmosphere.

          And there seems to be a good amount of water entering due to mini comets (see Dr. Frankl's mini comet theory, which received support a few years back from some NASA studies. We may be constantly getting new water added, mostly to our upper
        • Re:Pipe Dream (Score:3, Informative)

          by roman_mir (125474)
          It is not a very smart speculation.

          Venus Facts [kidscosmos.org]

          Earth Facts [kidscosmos.org]

          Mars Facts [kidscosmos.org]

          Simply by looking at the difference in diameters of the planets, you can see that Earth and Venus are very very close in diameter, while Mars is about half the diameter of either of these planets. That is the main contributor to the loss of any atmosphere (if it existed on the first place.) To hold an atmosphere, a planet needs to be of a certain mass (size,) so that the escape velocity of the planet is greater than the velocity
    • by Fr05t (69968)
      Hey can't they just kick start the core with a big nuke? I'm sure I saw that in a documentary or a movie.
    • by macklin01 (760841) on Monday February 07, 2005 @01:47PM (#11599000) Homepage

      At a given temperature, a gas has a certain pressure and root mean speed (norm of velocity from its kinetic energy). (A bit of calculation can show it to be (3kT/m)^(1/2), where k is Boltzmann's constant, T is temp in Kelvin, and m the gas molecule's mass.)

      If the root mean square of the gas is comparable to the escape velocity (2GM/R)^(1/2), the the majority of the gas will only stick around for a few days (if v_{esc} / v_{rms} is around 1), or maybe a few years. In fact, for the majority of the gas to be retained by the planet for several billion years, we need v_{esc} / v_{rms} around 10 or more.

      It turns out that v_{esc} / v_{rms} for Mars for most gases is too low. Water, ammonia, and methane, as well as helium and hydrogen are too light to be retained for long. (Although it turns out that water is just a bit too light, so it might stick around for thousands or millions or years.) However, it does appear oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide might be just heavy enough to be retained.

      This means that if there had ever been a significant amount of liquid water on Mars, it would not have stuck around long. CO2, and O2, on the other hand, have a shot. (So I guess we could design a breathable atmosphere, but water would be a problem.)

      Interestingly enough, these figures change (for the worse) if temperature increases on Mars (increases the kinetic energy of the gases), so making Mars more hospitable, temperature-wise, may make it less long-term hospitable, desirable molecule-wise.

      I got a lot of this info from my undergrad astronomy/astrophysics text: Introductory Astronomy and Astrophysics, 4th ed, by Zeilik and Gregory. -- Paul

  • Smokers? (Score:4, Funny)

    by Shadow Wrought (586631) <[shadow.wrought] [at] [gmail.com]> on Monday February 07, 2005 @12:32PM (#11597995) Homepage Journal
    Maybe we could ship all of them to Mars? Well worth the cost if you ask me.
  • by Zondar (32904) on Monday February 07, 2005 @12:32PM (#11597997)
    With all that methane being generated, it should warm the place up quickly
  • Hmmm (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Deekin_Scalesinger (755062) * on Monday February 07, 2005 @12:32PM (#11598002)
    We can't seem to get our outdated shuttles off the ground safely, or keep a permanent space staion running effectively. Is now a good time to tinker with another planet's atmosphere?
    • Re:Hmmm (Score:4, Funny)

      by loucura! (247834) on Monday February 07, 2005 @12:40PM (#11598112)
      Is now a good time to tinker with another planet's atmosphere?

      When isn't it a good time to tinker with another planet's atmosphere?
    • Re:Hmmm (Score:5, Insightful)

      by YrWrstNtmr (564987) on Monday February 07, 2005 @12:48PM (#11598222)
      "a Nasa scientist has proposed"
      "artificially created greenhouse gases could set the Martian climate simmering."
      "This would take hundreds or even thousands of years."

      Let's not get too carried away with the 'stupid idea' theme just yet. I don't think "now" is part of the equation.

    • Re:Hmmm (Score:5, Funny)

      by hackstraw (262471) * on Monday February 07, 2005 @12:59PM (#11598377)
      We can't seem to get our outdated shuttles off the ground safely, or keep a permanent space staion running effectively. Is now a good time to tinker with another planet's atmosphere?

      But we are already good at fucking up planets!
  • safety? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Prophet of Nixon (842081) on Monday February 07, 2005 @12:32PM (#11598005)
    Its likely already a dead planet... we can use it to test these new processes. What's the worst that can happen? It gets deader? Can't prove any method that complex without actual trials, I would think.
    • Re:safety? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Pedrito (94783)
      Its likely already a dead planet... we can use it to test these new processes. What's the worst that can happen? It gets deader?

      Do you have proof that it's dead? Last I heard, the jury is still out on whether it's a "dead" planet. The fact is that there's still a pretty reasonable possibility of microbial life on Mars. We've already managed to make a number of species on this planet extinct. So what, we should just start doing it willy nilly wherever we want?

      I know, microbes, big deal. But the fact remai
  • by nizo (81281) * on Monday February 07, 2005 @12:33PM (#11598007) Homepage Journal
    I wonder how much simulation and testing you need before we feel safe about affecting an entire planet."

    Apparently none, since we are modifying the earth in bad ways every day. Having another planet we can live on sounds like a great idea to me, since this one is becoming less habitable every day.

  • No life on Mars? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Chess_the_cat (653159) on Monday February 07, 2005 @12:33PM (#11598008) Homepage
    I guess NASA's scienticians have determined there is no life on Mars then? I can't see them killing Martian bacteria just for a little elbow room.
    • Re:No life on Mars? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Lord Ender (156273)
      Humanity doesn't need to spread to other planets for "elbow room." It needs to spread for the survival of the human race! There is no more important goal in the history humanity than to establish itself on other planets. For all we know, if we don't get off of Earth. life itself may vanish throughout the universe.
  • by csoto (220540) on Monday February 07, 2005 @12:34PM (#11598024)
    And if anybody comes back with a big spidery thing attached to their faces, for ged's sake, DO NOT LET THEM INTO THE HABITAT!
  • Stupidest thing ever (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Mark_MF-WN (678030) on Monday February 07, 2005 @12:34PM (#11598027)
    This is the stupidest thing I've heard. And from a NASA scientist no less.

    Where the hell are we supposed to get that much of ANY gas?

    How are we supposed to get it to stay there on Mars? If Mars could successfully hold an atmosphere, wouldn't it still have one? I was under the impression that Mars' low gravity and weak magnetic field allowed radiation to strip away any gases on Mars' surface.

    • by jerometremblay (513886) on Monday February 07, 2005 @12:45PM (#11598167) Homepage
      Where the hell are we supposed to get that much of ANY gas?

      From the article [newscientist.com] in the New Scientist: "The study found four fluorine-based gases that could be made of elements abundant on the Martian surface."
    • Once again, someone avoids admitting his ignorance by lashing out at someone else.

      Go call up Chris McKay at NASA and tell him your feelings about his project. My prediction is that he'll say something other than "Oh my gosh! You're right! I'll begin a more realistic project immediately!"
    • Crazy and pointless, maybe ,but not stupid.

      All the key ingredients for the warming media (Fluorine based gas, according to the article) exists on Mars.

      And yes, the warming agent will evaporate away in a long run. As Martian air warms it up, the rate of the evaporation would increase. This is easy to understand if you know Maxwellian distribution. If not, look it up. Basically each particles in the gas at a certain temperature doesn't all have the same kinetic energy (== mean speed); some particles have sl
    • by Dipster (830908) on Monday February 07, 2005 @01:08PM (#11598502)
      Mars' gravity is perfectly capable of holding a thick atmoshpere. If you look at Venus, who's gravity is something like 98% of Earth's, it has an atmosphere 100 times thicker than ours. The thickness is determined by a lot of factors, but gravity is a relitivaly small one.

      The magnetic field argument is a strong one. Its the only thing that protects the atmosphere from being blown away. However, another theory on why Mars lost its atmosphere is the following:

      As rain falls through the atmosphere, CO2 dissolves in it. When this rain water hits the ground, the CO2 reacts with Calcium and others to form limestone. On earth, this limestone is eventually recycled through our tectonic processes and released in volcanos/other release points (this being part of the global warming argument that something like 70% of earths CO2 is released by volcanos and is outside our control).

      However, on Mars, any tectonic activity has stopped, and as such, this limestone never gets put back into the atmosphere. It's ironic that the water itself eliminated the gas it needed to exist.

      One could say its a little of both. When tectonic processes stopped, CO2 stopped being recycled leading to a slightly thinner and much colder atmosphere, at the same time that the magnetic field dissappeared and the remainder of the atmospere was blown away.

  • by IO ERROR (128968) * <<su.rorreoi> <ta> <rorre>> on Monday February 07, 2005 @12:34PM (#11598030) Homepage Journal
    http://spot.colorado.edu/~marscase/cfm/terrabib.ht ml [colorado.edu] contains references to nearly 100 books, articles, papers, etc., on terraforming.
  • by flibuste (523578) on Monday February 07, 2005 @12:35PM (#11598040)

    Excellent!

    We cannot control the effects and cost of global warming on our own planet, so let's try it somewhere else and in the long run, reduce costs for earth inhabitants.

    Fortunately enough, nobody yet figured out how to make PROFIT with this

  • by jerometremblay (513886) on Monday February 07, 2005 @12:37PM (#11598082) Homepage
    The New Scientist also has an article [newscientist.com] on the subject.
  • by nasor (690345) on Monday February 07, 2005 @12:38PM (#11598084)
    Isn't the gravity on Mars only something like 1/3 that of earth? Is that enough to support a breathable atmosphere? Our air here on earth is 21% oxygen, so to obtain the same partial pressure I assume we would need something like a 60% oxygen atmosphere. Wouldn't everything (including us?) be really dangerously flammable?
  • by WiFireWire (772717) on Monday February 07, 2005 @12:39PM (#11598103) Journal
    Why is NASA so gung-ho about going to mars so quickly? Why not return to the moon so we can learn how to sustain our peeps closer to home?
    • The moon is considerably harder to survive on than Mars. There's no atmosphere, sketchy evidence of water, and (unless you go polar) 14 days of darkness, which I've heard plants don't like too much.

      Mars, on the other hand, has an atmosphere that can block most of the bad radiation, frozen water on the surface that we can harvest, and about a 24-hour sol. Heck, the atmosphere is almost pure CO2, which plants grow very well in. And there have been successful experiments in growing plants in Martian soil in

  • by JudgeFurious (455868) on Monday February 07, 2005 @12:41PM (#11598125)

    Somehow I suspect that whether it's right or wrong we'll feel just fine about affecting an entire planet with a minimum amount of "simulation and testing". We haven't been shy about affecting the one we live on so what makes anyone think we'll hesitate to start monkeying around with another one.
  • by freddyfred89 (591786) on Monday February 07, 2005 @12:42PM (#11598136)
    I sure hope Khan doesn't find out about this plan. Although, maybe if he does, we can send the dead scripts from Enterprise to the budding planet and resurrect a franchise ...
  • Titanic Hubris (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Doc Ruby (173196) on Monday February 07, 2005 @12:42PM (#11598137) Homepage Journal
    This is totally irresponsible work by NASA. Climate scientists should know better than anyone the lesson of our imminent climate change crisis. Human meddling with astoundingly complex systems like planetary climate is arrogant well beyond our competence, and predictable only by the law of unintended consequences. Screwing with Mars' atmosphere when we're just beginning to admit that we've already screwed up ours will nearly certainly make that planet harder to "manage" as it becomes more necessary to our human evolution. Humans thrive only in a very narrow band of climate parameters, out of a vast range of possible climates. When they spend a century shifting Mars unexpectedly into a less mutable climate stasis, that is just as inhospitable to human life as it is now, but a different configuration, it will take even more centuries to undo the damage, if even possible. We're just not ready for this kind of work, if we ever will be in the foreseeable future - and the stakes are too high to fool with.
  • Green Mars... (Score:5, Informative)

    by MadMorf (118601) on Monday February 07, 2005 @12:43PM (#11598150) Homepage Journal
    A Kim Stanley Robinson (SF writer) short story which he later expanded into 3 novels (Red/Green/Blue Mars).

    Covers this is a believeable and seemingly plausible way...

    One of my all-time favorite SF series, right next to the Gap Cycle by Stephen R. Donaldson and the original Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov.
  • by Richthofen80 (412488) on Monday February 07, 2005 @12:54PM (#11598318) Homepage
    I wonder how much simulation and testing you need before we feel safe about affecting an entire planet.

    Yeah, because if we screw it up, we might turns mars into an inhospitable desert!

    Oh wait.
  • by John_Booty (149925) <johnbooty@bootyp ... g ['ect' in gap]> on Monday February 07, 2005 @12:59PM (#11598375) Homepage
    I wonder how much simulation and testing you need before we feel safe about affecting an entire planet

    It's funny how they're talking about radically changing another world but thing that astonished me the most was the proper use of "affected" instead of "effected" in a Slashdot post.
  • on venus?

    i'm not joking, it seems to me that it would be energetically MORE feasible to cool things down in venus's atmosphere than it would be to heat things up in mars, and probably take less time too

    to heat mars up, you would need a significantly denser atmosphere... where is that coming from?

    while on venus, you just need to precipitate certain things out of the already dense atmosphere

    it is easier to remove something already there than to introduce something that isn't there

    of course, cooling down venus or heating up mars are both huge undertakings

    it just seems to me that the thermodynamics of cooling down venus presents an easier challenge in comparison
    • Well the problem with that is that Venus's atmosphere is incredibly dense. If we could reduce that density to something aproximating terrestrial norms, then the heat on the surface would likely be a none issue (it would still be warmer than earth, but only due to solar proximity, not insulation).

      However, I cannot for the life of me think of a feasible way to get rid of most of a planets atmosphere. You would need to move the gas offworld, or find some way to eliminate it. Somehow I doubt that pumping it
  • Mars problem (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ehiris (214677) on Monday February 07, 2005 @01:02PM (#11598413) Homepage
    Wouldn't the gravitational spin of Mars which causes high temperature fluctuations be a big constraint? How would that be addressed?
  • Feel safe? (Score:4, Funny)

    by crmartin (98227) on Monday February 07, 2005 @01:03PM (#11598428)
    Uh, and the risk would be what? That Mars would become uninhabitable?
  • by crivens (112213) on Monday February 07, 2005 @01:05PM (#11598464)
    This should be a raving success. I mean, look at how successful we are at warming up the Earth!

    Troll? Hell yeah!
  • Manifest Destiny (Score:5, Insightful)

    by drwho (4190) on Monday February 07, 2005 @01:13PM (#11598564) Homepage Journal
    Of course this is going to raise the pro- vs. anti-development arguments to try to claim we should do such-and-such for the good of mankind and animals and plants and life, or not do it.

    But, like genetic engineering, it is inevitable: humans will become increasingly engineered on the genetic level, that the living space of man will expand to every corner of the earth and beyond..this is our destiny.

    But politics will control WHICH humans will do it, who will be the perfect beings, who will conquer Mars, and at what point will a war with Earth break out?

    Being anti-genetic engineering or anti-Mars-colonization is like being anti-gun or anti-drug: forces bound to lose because of the great advantages that a sole user of the technology will have, and their power as a group will be unstoppable, whether they are an organized force or not.

    I'd really like to expound on this and probably correct some of my wording, but Slashdot isn't generally a place for well-though-out arguments.

  • by FleaPlus (6935) on Monday February 07, 2005 @01:23PM (#11598682) Journal
    As seems to be increasingly the case, I already submitted (rejected) variants of this story twice over the past week. I've pasted one of those variants below, which has links to sources far more information than the freakin' Guardian:

    Greenhouse gases could breathe life into Mars

    MSNBC [msn.com], New Scientist [newscientist.com] and PhysOrg [physorg.com] report on research by Margarita Marinova and others on using synthetic greenhouse gases to warm the Martian atmosphere and create the conditions [globalnet.co.uk] for life to thrive. The study focused on fluorine-based gases (dubbed "super-greenhouse gases"), which would be non-toxic, nearly 10,000 times as effective at capturing heat as CO2, and could be made from Martian resources. The research concluded that adding 300 parts per million of these gases would lead to a feedback effect by unfreezing CO2 and water on the surface. According to Marinova, 'Since warming Mars effectively reverts it to its past, more habitable state, this would give any possibly dormant life on Mars [wikipedia.org] the chance to be revived and develop further.' The feasibility and consequences of such terraforming [wikipedia.org] have been debated in the past [rednova.com].


    Also, note that contrary to the accepted submission's title, NASA hasn't done any sort of proposal of actually doing this. This is simply cool research exploring a very interesting "What-if".
  • by reallocate (142797) on Monday February 07, 2005 @01:47PM (#11599004)
    Here are some thing wrong with this story, and the way /. handled it:

    1. The notion of terraforming Mars isn't exactly new.

    2. This short and incomplete report would be comfortable in a tabloid, not in the broadsheet Guardian, a left-wing UK paper funded by a left-wing UK foundation to promote left-wing ideology. (Nothing wrong with being left-wing, or right-wing, but it helps to know who's paying for the news you're reading.)

    3. This is not a NASA proposal, as /. called it, or even a proposal by the scientists involved. It's a study; no one is proposing to terraform Mars.

  • by spectecjr (31235) on Monday February 07, 2005 @01:59PM (#11599142) Homepage
    We can make Mars like Earth when we're done making Earth like Venus.

    Let's try to focus here, people.
  • Duty. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by J05H (5625) on Monday February 07, 2005 @03:02PM (#11599883) Homepage
    We, humans, are the first species on Earth capable of spreading our biosphere into space. It is not alarmist to say that continent and planet cleansing events happen on a periodic basis. The recent tsunami and asteroid 2004MN's ever-changing error ellipse are evidence of dynamic, destructive processes that affect both humanity and the larger biosphere. It is our duty, as the first space-goers, to create bio-redundancy, to explore and develop.

    A project as large as terraforming Mars (or an asteroid) by it's very nature will require massive biological systems for completion. I predict that living creatures will be adapted both to vaccuum and various atmospheres, if we don't find life already there - giant tree cities on comets, kelp ponds in Mars craters, post-human cyborgs, etc.

    Creating new biospheres and offworld industries will greatly improve both standards of living and our ecological footprint on Earth. Enough colonization will mean the ability to protect the home world better. Making Mars bloom is our duty and destiny.

    Support private spaceflight, it's the only way this can happen. And fire up the florine pumps. 8)

    Josh
  • If you screw up and make Mars atmosphere unsuitable for life... well, damn, it already *is*, so what have you lost?

"The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts." -- Bertrand Russell

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