Scientists Create Material That Can Support Life On Mars

Material That Can Support Life On Mars

The researchers suggest that regions of the Martian surface could be made habitable with a material - silica aerogel - that mimics Earth's atmospheric greenhouse effect.

Enter "frozen smoke." An worldwide crew of scientists is proposing the use of silica aerogel, typically dubbed frozen smoke because of its appearance, to heat the surface of the red planet enough to support life and melt chilled H2O.

In the summer, this solid-state greenhouse effect creates pockets of warming under the ice.

Silica aerogel could also be used in order to build habitation domes or even self-contained biospheres on Mars, experts confirm.

"We started thinking about what kind of materials could minimize thermal conductivity but still transmit as much light as possible", said Robin Wordsworth, Assistant Professor, Environmental Science and Engineering, Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS).

Co-author Dr Laura Kerber, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, said: 'Mars is the most habitable planet in our Solar System besides Earth.

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Of course, life in this instance is most likely inanimate objects such as rocks shaped like real lifeforms such as rats, pigs and birds. But, according to Kerber, "a system for creating small islands of habitability would allow us to transform Mars in a controlled and scalable way". Additionally, the same material can be incorporated into greenhouses and habitats for any future pioneers that visit Mars. If we want to begin transporting humans and, inevitably, microorganisms from Earth to Mars, those invasive species could threaten life already present on the red planet. "Aerogels are not easy to make on a large scale, like those needed for this effort, and to accomplish the goal of creating a habitable region associated with subsurface ice on Mars, it would require a lot of aerogel". Like its gaseous form, frozen carbon dioxide allows sunlight to penetrate while trapping heat. This material, made mostly of silica and similar to Styrofoam, is nicknamed "frozen smoke" for its appearance, notes CNET.

So, rather than terraforming an entire planet - something which is physically impossible with today's technology - this approach essentially involves terraforming just a small, manageable patch of Mars.

Researchers acknowledge there are still significant engineering challenges to overcome.

Earth is the only home we've got-for now. The Martian polar ice caps are comprised of water ice and carbon dioxide.

"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", Dr. Wordsworth said. There is also the question of getting the aerogel to Mars. "If there is, how do we navigate that", asked Wordsworth.

To understand how aerogel greenhouses would fair in Mars, a team of scientists from Harvard, University of Edinburgh and CalTech recreated Mars-like conditions in a lab.

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