Terraforming: Changing the Atmosphere of a Planet


Terraforming is a theory about the hypothetical possibility of changing the climatic conditions on space bodies: moons, asteroids and stars. But first of all, of course, we are talking about planets. It is assumed that it is possible to make the climate, atmosphere and environmental conditions suitable for the comfortable life of humans, land animals and plants. Thus, terraforming will allow Earthlings to actively populate space.

Where the Idea Comes From

The idea of terraforming, like many innovative ideas, came from the world of science fiction. In 1942, American science fiction author Jack Williamson published the science fiction novel Collision Orbit. The protagonist of the book, a young engineer, terraforms an asteroid and makes it habitable. He cut a shaft to the center of the space object and set up a paragravitation system, was able to produce oxygen and water from mineral oxides, and built an apparatus that amplified the faint heat of the distant sun.

Jack Williamson was the first to formulate the concept of terraforming and gave the term its name.

How Terraforming Might Work

Considering the existing inventions and the technologies under development, it is assumed that terraforming will be done with equipment to be brought from Earth. The ideal and so far unattainable goal is to find materials for terraforming on the planets themselves. Or to bring microbes to the planet that can build a self-renewing ecosystem. What kind of microbes these will be is also unknown.

Although the idea of terraforming is still only hypothetical, political scientists are already getting involved in the debate. In particular, they are raising the question of governance:

  • who will govern the new planets?
  • Will they be part of Earth’s countries
  • will they have their own power and rulers?
  • How will territories be divided and what forms of government will there be?
  • is it worth investing large sums from the national budget in space exploration when the current population of Earth is unlikely to benefit from such investments?

Which Planets are Suitable for Terraforming

In Jack Williamson’s story, the main character was exploring an asteroid. In reality, however, this is virtually impossible. Scientists agree that a planet must initially have properties similar to those of Earth. For example, it is impossible to terraform Jupiter. In addition, the planet has a high level of radiation, incompatible with human life.

Ideally, the planet should be inhabited to begin with. Not the green men from the movies, but living bacteria. It would be easy to terraform a planet that differs from Earth mainly in temperature regime. The planet could be cooled by atomizing small particles like a “nuclear winter”. Or, conversely, it could be warmed by the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Technological Requirements for Terraforming a Planet:

  • The presence of water. In liquid or solidified form;
  • Absence of radiation. As a prerequisite for life;
  • The presence of gravity. The planet must be able to hold an atmosphere with gas composition and moisture;
  • A magnetic field. So that the hydrogen does not leave the planet;
  • The presence of stellar heat and light. Some minimum is necessary to heat the atmosphere and the surface of the planet;
  • Surface. Impossible to build a gas planet;
  • Lack of asteroids. Frequent collisions with asteroids can destroy life on the planet.

Terraforming Mars

Right now, Mars is a prime candidate for terraforming. The planet’s initial conditions fit most criteria, and scientists are already beginning to think about what life might look like on it. Living organisms have not yet been found on Mars, but from information obtained by studying the surface, it is clear that the planet is favorable for the formation and maintenance of life.

There are huge temperature differences on the planet, from extremely cold to extremely hot, but theoretically with the development of technology it is possible to influence them and create a comfortable weather. Elon Musk proposes to use a thermonuclear strike to create two “tiny suns” that would heat carbon dioxide and provide comfortable warmth on Mars due to the greenhouse effect.

The main problem with terraforming Mars is that the planet lacks a magnetic field. According to a scientific article in Science Advances, for the first 700 years of its existence, the red planet had a strong magnetic field and was probably very similar to Earth. But about 3.6 billion years ago, the planet turned into a lifeless desert. Whether this can be changed is still unknown. Scientists propose to wait for the first manned missions to Mars and to start debating exploration only after careful study.

Can Venus be Inhabited

Venus appears to be another planet attractive for terraforming. Its surface is only 5% smaller than Earth’s. It is the closest planet to us: it takes about four months to reach it. By comparison, a flight to Mars would take about twice as long. And, very importantly, Venus is close to the Sun and does not lack heat and light. Its average temperature is 467°C and can theoretically be lowered to a comfortable temperature. Scientists propose to put special solar reflectors around the planet like walls. They will help to cool the surface and at the same time lower the pressure.

Despite all the planet’s attractiveness, there are a number of problems that are unlikely to be fixed. There is virtually no water on Venus. The water has to be brought in artificially, making settlement very difficult. Hurricanes rage on the planet, volcanoes erupt frequently, and there are acid rains. In addition, Venus, like Mars, has no magnetic field. If you invest in the conquest of the planet a large amount of resources, time and manpower, then theoretically its terraforming is possible. But the process will require much more effort than the development of Mars and is not considered so promising.

Leave a Reply