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Old 03-31-2013, 01:13 PM   #1
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Mars

Probably one of the clearest and highest definition photos of the surface of Mars you've see.

Mars Gigapixel Panorama - Curiosity rover: Martian solar days 136-149

Some guy stitched together nearly 300 images from Curiosity to make it
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Old 03-31-2013, 04:23 PM   #2
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Gorgeous.
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Old 03-31-2013, 09:23 PM   #3
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Incredible.

Thought this was funny just down the page a bit haha

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Old 04-01-2013, 01:30 AM   #4
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Nice! So weird that as I see this topic, I'm writing my thesis proposal. On terraforming Mars
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Old 04-01-2013, 02:18 AM   #5
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What do you have to say about terraforming Mars?
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Old 04-01-2013, 02:27 AM   #6
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Eh. About 50 pages of stuff to say.

Well, the proposal is only 5 pages.


Basically... start with thermodynamics. Look at Mars, acknowledge the problem(s). I'll cut the story short, but among other things, the biggest issue is the thermodynamics. Improper temperature and pressure for living.

Pressure creates temperature in a greenhouse environment. But how do you add an atmosphere to Mars? Larger than life? Not necessarily. Turns out there's enough frozen carbon dioxide sitting on the surface of Mars to create a habitable low pressure atmosphere. And it's volatile, so the amount of energy needed to sublimate it isn't that substantial. Still larger than our capabilities, but once again the goldilocks situation fixes itself because from melting a little bit of it you get a positive feedback and create a runaway greenhouse effect. The amount we'd need to sublimate is still significant, but not completely unobtainable.

Several proposed theoretical methods are out there to melt the ice caps, and the reality is that you'd need to do all of them. I've chosen to focus on one -- kinetic impacting of comets and/or asteroids.

I'll analyze the effects of different sized objects of different densities and compositions, and then I'll analyze how exactly we can convince a comet/asteroid to run into Mars. Takes a lot of convincing, but it's possible.
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Old 04-01-2013, 02:37 AM   #7
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But what would Kuato think about all that?

Interesting stuff. I would think that with, so many variables at play, it would be near impossible to attain the right mix to make it habitable for humans. And wouldn't you have to take into account all the debris flung up by such an impact? Would finding a suitable asteroid (I assume that would be the easier option?) be prohibitively difficult, or does that not have to factor in to your paper? What about ethical questions? If you are able to attain a habitable equilibrium, won't adding plants and animals completely throw it out of whack? (after all, the history of Earth is littered with organisms changing the composition of our atmosphere) Do you have to worry about minerals leeching oxygen?

Sounds like a fun and thought provoking paper to write (though I'm sure many of your formulas are far from fun to work out).

You don't have to answer any of that. Just random questions that popped into my head
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Old 04-01-2013, 02:54 AM   #8
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If you'd like me to answer most of them, I can. Most of those are questions that I've had to tackle in order to undergo the research.

It is much more of a thought provoking thesis than anything else, though.

It's not that intensive in terms of formulas, really. There's a lot of intuition that goes into it, and a lot of assumption. Still some work to do though, but the most difficult part is moving an asteroid. The rest of it isn't that hard to calculate.
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Old 04-01-2013, 02:57 AM   #9
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Answer away then I'd love to hear your thoughts. Wasn't sure what discussion this thread would stimulate apart from "cool", so this is perfect

(though I'm off to bed soon, so I might not read your thoughts until the morning)
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Old 04-01-2013, 03:23 AM   #10
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Alright well for starts, you're right that there's so many variables that come into play that it is near impossible. But not flat out impossible. It's not practical, is the proper way to put it. The cost-benefit is so beyond us that there'd be no reason to consider.

Attaining the right mix [of atmospheric gasses] is not impossible. However, it is the largest issue that faces full terraforming. Terraforming works in phases. Atmospheric pressure is phase 1, and phase 2 is implementing filler gasses into the atmosphere. That is to say... we would need an inert gas, primarily nitrogen, to fill the air. Too much CO2 is poisonous. Obviously you need oxygen, but too much oxygen makes the planet a combustible nightmare. Nitrogen is also important for all forms of life. Getting the right mix is difficult. There's enough nitrates absorbed in the soil to make it 'possible', but the reality is that that would take millenia to accomplish. ~1000 years. Not something we're considering.

But that's okay. We know it's possible to make a breathable atmosphere much like the one here. It'd take a long time, but it's possible. We aren't concerned with that though. Making it habitable only requires atmospheric pressure and temperature. Indoor environments and supplied oxygen is not something that's hard to contain. Pressurization and freezing temperatures are something that completely limit any realistic settling on Mars.

As far as debris, that's part of my hypothesis. I've estimated that the optimal impact size is a 2-6km asteroid/comet. Anything bigger is likely to have adverse secondary effects, like popping up too much dust and blocking out sunlight and cooling the planet even further. It's also important to know that impacting is a synergistic effect. It alone is not nearly powerful enough to get the job done. It's primary purpose also isn't to create energy, surprisingly. Most of that would have to be done via solar reflectors and manufacturing of artificial halocarbon greenhouse gasses on site. Impacting, however, has a lot to do with local thermodynamics, and more importantly, importation of volatile greenhouses gasses present in the asteroid/comet such as ammonia.

That leads to your next point. Finding asteroids that are rich in ices useful for importing is very very hard. It's my (weak) hypothesis that comets would be much more friendly for the task. I'm not sure if you assumed asteroids to be better because of mass or because of proximity, but that strikes another point... it's a lot easier to convince an object to move from the outer solar system in than it is to move an object from inside at Mars, because objects in the outer solar system move slower. That means you'd require a much smaller change in momentum to move outer objects. The fact that they're farther away just means you'll need to be more precise and you'll need to wait a whole lot longer. But who's counting time for an already impractical project?

The core of the paper is actually about finding the right asteroid/comet in the right orbit and figuring out how to move it.

Ethics is a compleeetely different story. I tend to favor the idea of "if there's no life there now, it's our sandbox to play with." But there's a lot of other issues. Another major issue is solar radiation. Mars lacks a magnetosphere, so the sun would literally poison us from prolongued exposure. Lot's of things to consider.
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Old 04-02-2013, 01:33 PM   #11
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Sounds really cool.

I assumed asteroids for a few reasons. Yes, proximity, as you mentioned. I also assume they're more abundantly 'available' to choose the right one from. And also that their orbits would be more uniform, so figuring out how to nudge one in the right direction wouldn't have to be as tailored as it would be for a comet. Since time isn't a factor in your paper, I guess it also wouldn't matter that, even if you did find the right candidate in a comet, it would more than likely take longer to close the gap, on average, than an asteroid.

Have you considered the effects of populating your newly formed atmosphere though? It almost seems as though you'd want to attain some sort of proto-atmosphere first, then populate it with photosynthesizing organisms to attain one equilibrium, then populate with respiring organisms to attain your final. It took something like a billion years from the beginning of photosynthesizing cyanobacteria for the iron deposits on Earth to stop oxidizing before any significant change in atmospheric O2 levels were measurable. If you were to terraform Mars to today's environment, you'd probably end up with a slowly eroding atmosphere. Or is that not something to factor in for this paper?
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Old 04-02-2013, 05:08 PM   #12
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They are not necessarily more abundant, but easier to reach. But even so, it would be much easier to move a non main-belt asteroid, in which case I'm not quite sure but I believe comets or at least partially icy asteroids would be much more common. Another issue with finding comets is that if they've got these massive orbital periods, chances are we can't see them and we wont see them until they get really, really close. Top that with the fact that comets are known for being the dimmest objects in the solar system due to their low albedo, it makes the search pretty difficult.

But my plan is going to find already cataloged methods that fit the 'goldilocks parameter', aka my hypothesis, for impacting. One of my favorite ones to consider is Halley's comet, although that's more significant on a timely basis. Ironic though, that it's so popular and well known. It's very valuable though, because we know so much about it. It contains a significant amount of ammonia, and is of a decent size. Perhaps a little too big though. But comets are less dense than asteroids, so I assume momentum plays the primary role on how a large impact reacts.

I really haven't gotten into the complex mechanics of it, but here's its orbit:



If you can catch it out there at aphelion, it's within reachable human distance but gets far enough out there to be moving slow enough to theoretically control. I'm just using it as an example though. There are plenty of similar examples.
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Old 04-02-2013, 05:15 PM   #13
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You're spot on with the proto-atmosphere though. Attaining atmospheric pressure is phase 1. Phase 2 is inducing a filler gas like nitrogen or helium, and phase 3 is oxygenating your atmosphere. Although, to be honest, phase 2 and 3 can be done simultaneously. They'd take upwards towards thousands of years though.

Photosynthesizing organisms are great and all, but highly inefficient. Synergistic efforts would be needed, plus there's issues with the nitrogen cycle and whatnot. I've read very little about that though. I am purely concerned with the feasible but never-going-to-happen. That is, I am concerned with phase 1 and attaining atmospheric pressure. Not composition. Phase 1 is something that could be accomplished in less than a century's time.

An eroding atmosphere is something that is taken into account but negligible. The time it would take to erode/fully deplete the theoretically built atmosphere is somewhere to the tune of 50,000 years. If we can build it in a century, we can maintain it too. 50,000 years is something where you question if civilization outlives it or not.
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Old 04-03-2013, 01:23 AM   #14
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Makes you think, eh. A Kim-Stanley-Robinson style human terraforming of Mars would obviously take significantly longer than (for understandable dramatic license) those novels of his depicted.

It would probably have to be almost entirely automated, if ever it were attempted. The indications to me are that present human societies, at least in the west, are probably less able/inclined to sustain a coherent purpose across multiple lifetimes than some of our ancestors. Despite the organisational/technical resources at our disposal. The idea is just nuts on the face of it... yet Mars sits there in the sky and it ain't going anywhere.
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Old 04-03-2013, 01:51 AM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kieran McConville View Post
The indications to me are that present human societies, at least in the west, are probably less able/inclined to sustain a coherent purpose across multiple lifetimes than some of our ancestors.
That's such a sad statement, but it certainly seems to be the case. It's also not something I had considered in this undertaking, but I'm sure it extends to what would otherwise be more attainable goals . I wonder if that's just a product of political cycles and the short term mentality they manifest? I doubt people are fundamentally different now than in the past.

Few things bother me more than the flippant cutting of funds to things like space exploration as if they're superfluous human endeavors.
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