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Mars terraformed


The recent hubbub about the ‘Siding Spring’ comet (aka WORMWOOD) heading for Mars got me thinking about terraforming. Should the comet actually hit the Red Planet the impact would be immense. The nucleus of the comet is estimated to be from 15 km to 50 km wide traveling at a velocity 56 km/second. An impact would generate an energy force measured in the billions of megatons generating immense heat energy. Millions of megatons of crust would be ejected creating a crater hundreds of miles wide. It is estimated that the impact could be seen from Earth with the naked eye during the daytime.

Mars is cold and dry and could help it sustain life. The relatively small size of Mars compared to Earth caused significant volcanic activity to cease and the iron core to solidify billions of years ago. The solidification of the iron core caused the magnetosphere to diminish significantly. This subjected the atmosphere billions of years of buffeting by solar wind gradually blowing much of it off the planet. Thus the planet dried out and much of the water receded into aquifers and the average temperature dropped to its current average of −55 °C. An impact would cause the average temperature to increase significantly and water would be released from aquifers. Underground water combined with the vaporized remains of comet would thicken the atmosphere and fill a boreal sea.

A single comet may not ultimately be enough to completely terraform the planet. In Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy comets where dropped from the Kuiper Belt to thicken the atmosphere introducing more water vapor. Multiple direct impacts could prove counter productive by introducing too much heat energy. Maneuvering robots could adjust the trajectory of the comet intersecting the planet at a shallow angle thus allowing the comet to disintegrate in the atmosphere without impacting the surface. Robots could introduce algae and plants generating oxygen and nitrogen could be dropped in from Titan. The thickened atmosphere will reduced the amount of normal solar radiation that reaches the surface. Coronal mass ejections and solar flares will continue to be a threat to life though because of a lack of significant magnetosphere.

Unfortunately a direct impact by WORMWOOD is becoming less and less likely by the day with the latest odds at 1 in 8000. The above may be possible though with technology currently being researched and developed by NASA and several private space mining start-ups. Dr. Philip Metzger, a NASA physicist/planetary scientist, has recently posted about recent space mining activity on his blog. Perhaps if these technologies were more mature WORMWOOD could be redirected after all.


Update – Soon after Tweeting this post I received these replies from Dr. Metzger:


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