Mars ‘could be made habitable’ using tiles, scientists say

NASA Curiosity rover: Space agency locates tiny Mars rover dwarfed by giant mountain

A system for creating small islands of habitability would allow us to transform Mars in a controlled and scalable way'.

But the proposal also raises engineering and ethical questions for any future exploration and habitation of Mars.

Corresponding author Professor Robin Wordsworth, an engineer at Harvard University in the United States, said: 'This regional approach to making Mars habitable is much more achievable than global atmospheric modification.

The U.S. and British scientists have proposed an idea to make the Martian climate livable for humans, using a material that mimics Earth's atmospheric greenhouse effect.

"Mars is the most habitable planet in our Solar System besides Earth", said planetary geologist Laura Kerber from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. In September 2018, it took a photo of the now abandoned Opportunity, and a few months after that it showed the world the landing site of the most recent missions we sent there, InSight.

Prof Wordsworth said: "We started thinking about this solid-state greenhouse effect and how it could be invoked for creating habitable environments on Mars in the future". For example, would it even be possible to manufacture this material on Mars?

"A specular reflection occurs when most of the light hitting a surface is reflected in a single direction, and can be seen by an observer looking from exactly that direction", the researcher explained.

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Previous proposals to give Mars a fever included releasing greenhouse gases such as Carbon dioxide from the ground - basically emulating what we've inadvertently achieved here on Earth. The resulting aerogel consists of pockets of air, and is therefore ultralight and can be capable of trapping heat. In a 1971 paper, Sagan suggested that vaporizing the northern polar ice caps would "yield ~10 s g cm-2 of atmosphere over the planet, higher global temperatures through the greenhouse effect, and a greatly increased likelihood of liquid water".

However, over the majority of the surface the Martian atmosphere is so thin that it can not muster a greenhouse effect sufficient to boost temperatures above the melting point of water. The aerogel is an extremely lightweight material already being manufactured on Earth and is at present utilized in NASA's Mars rovers as insulation. Silica aerogels are themselves fairly fragile, so would need to be reinforced or combined with other materials. Moreover, aerogel is translucent, allowing visible light to pass through while blocking ultraviolet light's harmful radiation. The models, which focussed on an ice-rich, mid-latitude location, suggested this would be enough to keep water liquid to a depth of several metres throughout the Martian year.

This would last throughout the Martian year. Wordsworth and his colleagues then marked the temperature and the way a lot of UV radiation passed by the aerogel.

Prof Wordsworth said: 'Spread across a large enough area, you wouldn't need any other technology or physics, you would just need a layer of this stuff on the surface and underneath you would have permanent liquid water'.

Wordsworth says the team now plans to run field tests in regions such as the Atacama Desert in Chile and Antarctic dry valleys, as these are "the closest approximations that we have for the Martian surface".

Prof Wordsworth added: "If you're going to enable life on the Martian surface, are you sure that there's not life there already?" 'The larger the area, the greater the volume, the more resistant it would be to diurnal and seasonal temperature changes, ' Wordsworth says.

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