Could we really terraform Mars?

Apr 23, 2020
It seems ironic that we talk of terraforming Mars when we can't seem to prevent or counter climate change on Earth, which should be orders of magnitude easier.
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"There never was a good war, or a bad peace."
Could we really terraform Mars?

No. For all the reasons given in previous threads on this subject.

There is a reason Mars has almost no atmosphere. It has gone. Mars is small and cannot retain an atmosphere. If sufficient gases could be found/produced/transported they would leak away again into space like they did last time. Do you know the mass of Earth's atmosphere?

about 5.5 quadrillion tons

The total mass of Earth's atmosphere is about 5.5 quadrillion tons, or roughly one millionth of Earth's mass. On this basis a Mars atmosphere might be calculated as one millionth of 6.410 x 10^23 kg or 6.410 x 10^15 kg or 6.410 x 10^14 metric tons or 641,000,000,000,000 = 641 billion mt.
That is 10^23 kg = 10^17 (1 millionth) = 10^14 kg to metric ton.

So after finding or producing these gases on Earth, you have to fly 641 billion metric tons to Mars. And keep flying it there as it keeps escaping.

Right, one says. Lets make oxygen from silicates on Mars:

"The enthalpy of formation of silicon is -911 kJ/mol. This means that converting the elements Si and O2 to SiO2 gives out a LOT of energy. To reverse this, we have to put that energy back (and some more, courtesy of thermodynamics) which really means electricity or very high temperature. However at high temperature you have a gas containing Si, SiO, SiO2 and O2. Separating out the oxygen would be a substantial chemical engineering challenge.

The only practical way is using carbon to separate the oxygen atoms from the silica ones in the form of a gas CO, which is easy to separate from solid Si, and then further chemistry to get the oxygen out of of the CO. If oxygen was a rare element and we had (for some reason) plenty of carbon, then this would be a fairly heroic way of getting oxygen for chemists to play with."

Then you need a few millions to billions tons of carbon to be produced on Mars - from what? And then you still have to get oxygen from carbon monoxide.

It is very easy to write chemical equations. It is a different matter implementing these suggestions in the real world. Ask a Chemical Engineer, not a Chemist. BTW I have B.Sc. degree in Chemical Engineering.

It is like saying it is easy to move Mount Everest to the Sahara Desert. All you need is some people with shovels, and lorries. It ain't that easy.

Cat :)

PS. From a New Scientist article How we could produce oxygen on Mars:

"Guerra’s team are working with a very small prototype that operates using 150 to 200 Watts for 4 hours per 25-hour Mars day. But Guerra says that a further version scaled up by a factor of 100 could produce 8 to 16 kilograms of oxygen daily. “The International Space Station currently consumes oxygen in the range of 2 to 5 kilograms per day, so this would be enough to support a small settlement,” says Guerra. Because the system wouldn’t require heat or additional pressure, it could be less cumbersome than other proposals, such as MOXIE, a system that splits carbon dioxide using electrolysis. This would need temperatures of 800°C and compressors."
The plasma system could produce enough oxygen to support a small settlement
"MOXIE’s creators say their system is more advanced than the plasma one. “They’ve left out how the carbon dioxide is collected and how the oxygen is separated from the other gases,” says Michael Hecht, a member of the MOXIE initiative. “The devil is in the detail,” he says."

That says it all "The plasma system could produce enough oxygen to support a small settlement" Hardly much use for terraforming a planet!

All these things you need high temperatures, electricity, lasers, synchrotrons,

. . . . . . . . . . . . just some men with shovels and some lorries.
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