An analysis of 20 years of spacecraft data from NASA dismisses the possibility of terraforming Mars, a hypothetical process of making the Red Planet hospitable like Earth.
Ultimately, the study ruled that there is an inadequate supply of carbon dioxide on Mars to create an atmosphere that can sustain life. The team of scientists who worked on the analysis said the CO2 on the planet is not thick enough to produce liquid water on its surface.
The team tallied all the possible scenarios of releasing enough CO2 on Mars, but it all leads to the conclusion that there is no available technology on Earth at present to make the terraforming possible.
Elon Musk disagreed. In a tweet, he said Mars has massive CO2, and it can only take either an artificial or natural fusion to release them.
Terraforming Mars Not Possible With Present-Day Technology
For the study, published in Nature Astronomy on July 30, the team of scientists analyzed the quantity of carbon-bearing minerals and the presence of CO2 in polar ice using data from NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Mars Odyssey spacecraft, and data on why ancient life forms did not survive on the Martian planet.
The scientists found that Mars has enough water ice that can create water vapor, but low temperature prevents the water ice to vaporized and produce CO2. Releasing chlorofluorocarbons or other fluorine-based compounds may raise the atmospheric temperature, but that will require a large-scale manufacturing process that is, at present, impossible to do.
The study noted that atmospheric pressure on Mars is less than one percent of the pressure of the Earth's atmosphere or only around 0.6 percent to that of Earth's. Raising temperatures on Mars requires a similar atmospheric pressure found on Earth.
There is an accessible source of CO2 on Mars that can be found in the polar ice caps. Explosives can be used to vaporize it and absorb more solar radiation to increase temperatures. This process would, however, only double the Martian pressure to 1.2 percent of Earth's.
Elon Musk Disagrees With NASA
Musk argued that the Martian soil contained a massive amount of CO2 that can be released upon heating using either artificial or natural fusion. In fact, he said this process can terraform almost any large rocky body in the universe. The SpaceX CEO is referring to CO2 that may have been retained on Mars' rocks over time. Musk, in the past, also proposed exploding Mars with nuclear bombs to release sufficient CO2 that will make the planet habitable.
NASA's paper had in fact already mentioned about the CO2 contained on Mars' soil. The scientists also considered heating the soil to release the needed gas, but they went back to the problem of how atmospheric pressure on Mars can reach a level similar to Earth's.
The study has also looked into the carbon trapped in mineral deposits, but digging them up also requires amount of pressure close to Earth's. The same problem dismisses the likelihood of strip mining Mars to a depth of around 100 yards to harvest CO2 that is located close to the soil's surface.
There is also the option of allowing the atmosphere to naturally build up from outgassing by geologic activity. This process would, however, take about 10 million years.
The team had even calculated the possibility or redirecting comets and asteroids to collide with Mars. This process, however, requires thousands of asteroids and comets to be redirected toward Mars, but this is extremely impractical.
"Our results suggest that there is not enough CO2 remaining on Mars to provide significant greenhouse warming were the gas to be put into the atmosphere. In addition, most of the CO2 gas is not accessible and could not be readily mobilized. As a result, terraforming Mars is not possible using present-day technology," concluded Bruce Jakosky of the University of Colorado, the lead author of the study.