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Transforming the red planet to support life has long been a dream of science fiction. Mars is now too cold to support life. Its atmosphere is also too thin to protect any living organisms from harmful radiation. But a new study suggests that local conditions could be changed using an inch of "aerogel"—a synthetic and ultralight material made by taking a gel and replacing the liquid component with a gas.
The authors behind the paper, published in Nature Astronomy, claim the technique could produce habitable regions on the red planet and potentially allow life to develop and thrive thanks to photosynthesis—the process by which plants can convert sunlight into energy. But is this really the case? And, if so, should we do it?
Years - Life - Earth - Conditions - Mars
Some 3.8 billion years ago, when life was starting on Earth, conditions on Mars were habitable. The red planet had water on the surface, clouds in its blue sky and volcanism provided part of a water cycle. We know all this from space missions, which have spotted signs of dried up water-crafted channels on the surface. Meanwhile the Opportunity and Curiosity rovers have proved that these features were due to water, by finding tell-tale water-rich minerals.
A magnetic field also protected Mars from harmful space radiation up to 3.8 billion years ago. This was revealed by Mars Global Surveyor, which found crustal magnetic fields in the older, southern highlands. These are the only remains of an ancient global magnetic field, similar to Earth's magnetic field now.
Conditions - Years - Field - Mars - Heat
These habitable conditions, however, changed 3.8 billion years ago. The magnetic field disappeared. We think this is because Mars lost the heat left over from its formation more quickly than Earth did—this may have been augmented by a large collision which formed the Hellas basin on Mars. Unprotected by a magnetic field for billions of...
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