Author Topic: Radical Terraforming Methods  (Read 25279 times)

Online sanman

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Radical Terraforming Methods
« on: 04/30/2011 09:25 PM »
Since this is the Advanced Concepts section, I'd like to ask about what might be the most radical-yet-feasible approaches to terraforming planets like Mars or Venus.

For instance, if we could collide a large ammonia ice and/or water ice object with Mars, how long would it take for the Martian crust to re-solidify/stabilize? Millions of years? Thousands? What is the mass threshold for a useful collision? A half-mile sized object, like the one that wiped out the dinosaurs? What if we instead collided our ammonia/water ice object with Phobos or Deimos, to knock it into Mars?

What if a suitable collision with Venus could tear off its dense crushing poisonous atmosphere, while also widening its orbit? Could a sufficiently high-kinetic collision also be used to affect Venus' core, to re-start a magnetosphere?


What about the use of "gravity tractor" effect, where an object of sufficient mass could be used to gradually pull on Mars or Venus to alter their orbits? (To me, this would amount to a "collision without the collision" - ie. orbital change with little or no planetary crustal disruption)
What if an object like Ceres could be hurled at Mars or Venus for this purpose, without actually colliding with the planetary target, so that Ceres ended up in an initially skewed but decaying elliptical orbit around Mars or Venus?
I'm thinking the bias/skew of this ellipse would mean a combined binary center of gravity that resulted in an altered planetary orbital trajectory.



What about use of engineered bacteria for transformation of the Martian environment? Since bacteria can multiply exponentially, they can scale up their effects very quickly.

What is the minimum atmospheric pressure/density required for the Martian surface to achieve temperature stability comparable to Earth's?

What combination of approaches could be used, and in what order, to achieve the most beneficial effects in the quickest timeframe?

I was thinking that collisions/tractors should come first, since they are the most crude and brutal. Then bacterial seeding could come afterwards, since bacteria don't mind crustal instabilities like earthquakes, just as long as the whole surface isn't molten.

What other things could be tried?

Online sanman

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Re: Radical Terraforming Methods
« Reply #1 on: 04/30/2011 09:35 PM »
Let's suppose that we could catalog 80% of the objects in the asteroid belt, to find out their orbits, mass and composition. Shouldn't it be possible to then calculate the easiest way to set up a collision with Mars or Venus, like in an orbital billiards game?

ie. you find find a way to bang a small object into a larger object into a larger object, etc, to obtain a collision with the target planet at just the right kinetic vector to achieve the desired effect.

There are a lot of objects in our solar system, in a wide variety of sizes - especially if we decide to include the Oort cloud. Shouldn't there be some theoretical combination of collisions that could be used to do what we want, based on detailed knowledge of orbital mechanics?

« Last Edit: 04/30/2011 09:37 PM by sanman »

Offline UncleMatt

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Re: Radical Terraforming Methods
« Reply #2 on: 05/01/2011 03:00 AM »
Since Mars has little, if any magnetic field protecting the atmosphere from degradation by the suns activity, any change made to the atmosphere will be short lived on planetary time scales. I recall an article not long ago that actually showed a chunk of Mars' atmosphere leaving the planet in the energy stream from the sun. You would have to keep throwing rocks at it as time went by, and STILL no magnetic field to protect living things from high energy particles/radiation...
« Last Edit: 05/01/2011 03:01 AM by UncleMatt »

Offline KelvinZero

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Re: Radical Terraforming Methods
« Reply #3 on: 05/01/2011 04:25 AM »
The only thing I have seen that could make terraforming practical is a self-reproducing, self-sufficient workforce. This means either self reproducing machines, or self sufficient human colonies. The second is probably less like science fiction right now.

Therefore terraforming is something that will only happen after we know how to live without earthlike planets anyway. I hope we do get to that point but terraforming will be more of an art project than to provide more living room.

Terraforming mars would give us less than another earth of living space. The true unexploited potential of this solarsystem is IMO better reflected by the proportion of sunlight that falls onto the planet earth compared to the proportion currently not exploited.

My favorite mechanism for terraforming would be self-reproducing solar-sail 'butterflies'. They eat a bit of the moon or perhaps some asteroid then exploit their solar sails to navigate into position around the desired planet. Then they can be programmed to fully control the sunlight to the planet's surface. They could increase the sunlight to mars, or shade venus, even giving it earth-length 'days'. If we had that sort of power we could probably build artificial magnetospheres also by similar means.

Offline mlorrey

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Re: Radical Terraforming Methods
« Reply #4 on: 05/01/2011 04:40 AM »
I suggest anybody interested in terraforming Mars to read Martyn Fogg's seminal textbook, "Terraforming: Engineering Planetary Environments", which is on Amazon. This text is what Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy is based on.

Basically, the quickest way to terraform Mars using current technology is to build some air plants there that will produce chlorofluorocarbons using martian ores and nuclear power, and dump the CFC's into the Martian atmosphere. CFCs are a very strong greenhouse gas, much stronger than methane or CO2. If we produce an equivalent mass of CFCs as have been produced on Earth since 1970, then Mars will warm enough to cause all the CO2 in ices at the poles, and embedded in regolith, to outgas, and within 30 years increase Martian atmospheric pressure to about 300 millibars, which is about the pressure seen in the Himalayas. This will eliminate the need for pressure suits on Mars, but not the need for oxygen masks. The average temperature will be above freezing for about 3/4 of the surface, so this should also cause all the glacial ice to melt and the northern basin will fill and become a shallow ocean with an average depth of about 40-50 feet. This will lower Mars albedo and become a big heat sink so that after a few decades of a cool spell as the liquid water absorbs much of the heat from the atmosphere, the climate will be ready for plant life to be colonized. Evaporation of moisture will increase atmospheric density further.

The main problem is the lack of atmospheric nitrogen on Mars. There are two places to get it: Titan and Pluto. The only real way to ship the needed mass from one planet to another is if we are able to prove the viability of Mach Effect technology and can use it to build wormhole gateways between planets, this would allow wormholes to be used as pipelines for atmospheric gasses between worlds.
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Online sanman

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Re: Radical Terraforming Methods
« Reply #5 on: 05/01/2011 07:32 AM »
I'm surprised at the defeatist pessimism towards terraforming. Thanks for your comments mlorrey, but I don't think wormholes from mach effect will be happening any time soon. Yes, I'd read about the CFCs thing, but don't they also eat up ozone? We like Ozone for blocking radiation, and even though Mars has none of it, we don't want to preclude the possibility of having it sometime down the line.

Maybe we can engineer a better greenhouse gas (since CFCs were not expressly engineered for that purpose), and also we can H-bomb the Martian icecaps to accelerate the warming.

Extremophile bacteria amount to self-replicating machines, and could potentially adapt to current Martian conditions, in order to proliferate and modify the environment.

A large collision could increase the albedo by raising a dustcloud, which could also provide shielding from solar radiation for bacteria seeded soon afterward.

Regarding magnetosphere, Mars does apparently have a liquid iron core:

http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/news/index.cfm?FuseAction=ShowNews&NewsID=453

So it sounds like it must have had a magnetosphere at some point in the past.

What kind of energy output would a working Martian magnetosphere equate to?








« Last Edit: 05/01/2011 08:14 AM by sanman »

Offline rklaehn

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Re: Radical Terraforming Methods
« Reply #6 on: 05/01/2011 08:05 AM »
Since Mars has little, if any magnetic field protecting the atmosphere from degradation by the suns activity, any change made to the atmosphere will be short lived on planetary time scales. I recall an article not long ago that actually showed a chunk of Mars' atmosphere leaving the planet in the energy stream from the sun. You would have to keep throwing rocks at it as time went by, and STILL no magnetic field to protect living things from high energy particles/radiation...

One million years is short on planetary time scales. But it would still be enough for a relatively longlived human civilization. Besides, compared with all the other things discussed here, providing mars with a magnetic field by building a few superconducting rings and charging them using nuclear power would be relatively easy. A planetary scale power grid for an advanced civilization could be configured so that it produces such a magnetic field as a side effect.

The figure of 30 years for CFC induced atmosphere production sounds almost too good to be true. And if you want a bigger effect, just produce more of them. It is not like they are toxic or anything. And the raw materials are just fluorine salt and CO2, right?
Try the ISS 3D visualization at http://www.heavens-above.com/ISS_3D.aspx

Online sanman

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Re: Radical Terraforming Methods
« Reply #7 on: 05/01/2011 08:14 AM »
What could be done to artificially reproduce the effects of a Magnetosphere? What if some object with a large magnetic field (eg. magnetic solar sail / plasma bubble ?) could be orbited close the Sun, always staying between the Sun and Mars. Perhaps this object's magnetic field could create a small wake, which would of course broaden as it traveled outwards, so that by the time it got to Mars it would have a significant effect.

Based on Solar Wind velocity, the Sun-Mars distance, and Mars diameter, how close to the Sun would our magnetic deflector have to be, and how large would it have to be, in order to have any meaningful effect?

Let's say our deflector object is orbiting the Sun at a distance of ~50million km. The Sun-Mars distance is ~200million km. The highest energy Solar Wind particles travel at ~750km/s. The Martian diameter is ~3500km.

So we have 150million km in which to get our Solar Wind particles to veer 1750km out of the way (let's make them veer 2000km out of the way)

So

2 000 / (150 000 000 / 750) = 0.01 km/s orthogonal velocity
                                      = 10 m/s orthogonal velocity

Can we impart a velocity of 10 m/s to Solar Wind particles, so that they will have veered clear of Mars by the time they reach it?

We want our solar sail deflector to always hover between the Sun and Mars, so that solar sail deflector's tangential orbital velocity vector plus Solar Wind pressure force are able to exactly offset the Sun's gravitional pull.

« Last Edit: 05/01/2011 08:40 AM by sanman »

Offline UncleMatt

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Re: Radical Terraforming Methods
« Reply #8 on: 05/01/2011 03:11 PM »
I'm surprised at the defeatist pessimism towards terraforming. Thanks for your comments mlorrey, but I don't think wormholes from mach effect will be happening any time soon. Yes, I'd read about the CFCs thing, but don't they also eat up ozone? We like Ozone for blocking radiation, and even though Mars has none of it, we don't want to preclude the possibility of having it sometime down the line.

Maybe we can engineer a better greenhouse gas (since CFCs were not expressly engineered for that purpose), and also we can H-bomb the Martian icecaps to accelerate the warming.

Extremophile bacteria amount to self-replicating machines, and could potentially adapt to current Martian conditions, in order to proliferate and modify the environment.

A large collision could increase the albedo by raising a dustcloud, which could also provide shielding from solar radiation for bacteria seeded soon afterward.

Regarding magnetosphere, Mars does apparently have a liquid iron core:

http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/news/index.cfm?FuseAction=ShowNews&NewsID=453

So it sounds like it must have had a magnetosphere at some point in the past.

What kind of energy output would a working Martian magnetosphere equate to?
No defeatism here, just the facts. As far as I know, Mars simply does not have a magnetic field strong enough to protect living organisms from solar and space radiation, let alone protect the atmosphere from solar degradation. If anyone has a source that can refute this position, please post.

I would instead spend the time and money (resources) for terraforming on building space habitats where you can dial in living conditions to be whatever you want...

Offline alexterrell

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Re: Radical Terraforming Methods
« Reply #9 on: 05/01/2011 05:14 PM »
I suggest anybody interested in terraforming Mars to read Martyn Fogg's seminal textbook, "Terraforming: Engineering Planetary Environments", which is on Amazon. This text is what Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy is based on.

Basically, the quickest way to terraform Mars using current technology is to build some air plants there that will produce chlorofluorocarbons using martian ores and nuclear power, and dump the CFC's into the Martian atmosphere. CFCs are a very strong greenhouse gas, much stronger than methane or CO2. If we produce an equivalent mass of CFCs as have been produced on Earth since 1970, then Mars will warm enough to cause all the CO2 in ices at the poles, and embedded in regolith, to outgas, and within 30 years increase Martian atmospheric pressure to about 300 millibars, which is about the pressure seen in the Himalayas. This will eliminate the need for pressure suits on Mars, but not the need for oxygen masks. The average temperature will be above freezing for about 3/4 of the surface, so this should also cause all the glacial ice to melt and the northern basin will fill and become a shallow ocean with an average depth of about 40-50 feet. This will lower Mars albedo and become a big heat sink so that after a few decades of a cool spell as the liquid water absorbs much of the heat from the atmosphere, the climate will be ready for plant life to be colonized. Evaporation of moisture will increase atmospheric density further.

The main problem is the lack of atmospheric nitrogen on Mars. There are two places to get it: Titan and Pluto. The only real way to ship the needed mass from one planet to another is if we are able to prove the viability of Mach Effect technology and can use it to build wormhole gateways between planets, this would allow wormholes to be used as pipelines for atmospheric gasses between worlds.
The best places for Nitrogen are outer solar system asteroids. Since these orbit the sun very slowly, they only need a delta V of <1km/s to swing them by Neptune for Mars impact.

Of course, asteroid impacts may not be compatible with human settlement.

Offline go4mars

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Re: Radical Terraforming Methods
« Reply #10 on: 05/01/2011 05:58 PM »
The best places for Nitrogen are outer solar system asteroids. Since these orbit the sun very slowly, they only need a delta V of <1km/s to swing them by Neptune for Mars impact.

Of course, asteroid impacts may not be compatible with human settlement.

Then again, maybe if it was a very steady stream of asteroids less than 150 meters diameter or so, such as several hundred arriving per day, all landing in the deepest part of Hellas basin (or some other arbitrary location), then it might just work.  Metal-rich asteroids of smaller size could be impacted in a different location to provide extra resources, extra planetary mass, and if desired, could speed up the day/night cycle to match Earth's exactly if desired by controlling the angle of impact. 
« Last Edit: 03/15/2012 02:48 PM by go4mars »
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Online sanman

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Re: Radical Terraforming Methods
« Reply #11 on: 05/01/2011 06:49 PM »
I don't think an asteroid impact with Oympus Mons is going to make it taller - on the contrary, it's going to punch a big hole in it. What I want to know is if asteroid impacts can be done in such a way so as to mitigate their damaging effects. Can we select an impact body and a kinetic velocity as well as an impact site, that would perhaps allow it to cleanly punch through the crust without shattering it.

We don't want a situation where the entire crust shatters or liquifies, and takes millions of years to re-solidify.
 
Suppose we found a mile-wide chunk of solid uranium floating somewhere in the asteroid belt - something with the mass density and the cohesion to allow for a very tight and fast impact. Suppose we even spent some time "sharpening" it, to turn it into a giant penetrator round.
We want to use it as a bullet that will cleanly punch through the crust. Or else, maybe we want just the right amount of "shatter" - not too much, but not too little either - since crustal venting can affect heat flux out of the core, and thus the operation of the geodynamo that creates the magnetosphere.

Both Mars and Venus seem to have iron cores, but it seems to me that:
1) Martian crust is way thicker than Venus'
2) Martian core seems to have lost its magnetosphere by getting too cold
3) Venus core has lost its magnetosphere because of under-cooling

Some sort of convection is required, in order to have a geodynamo generate the magnetic field

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venus#Magnetic_field_and_core

Quote
The lack of an intrinsic magnetic field at Venus was surprising given that it is similar to Earth in size, and was expected also to contain a dynamo at its core. A dynamo requires three things: a conducting liquid, rotation, and convection. The core is thought to be electrically conductive and, while its rotation is often thought to be too slow, simulations show that it is adequate to produce a dynamo.[54][55] This implies that the dynamo is missing because of a lack of convection in the Venusian core. On Earth, convection occurs in the liquid outer layer of the core because the bottom of the liquid layer is much hotter than the top. On Venus, a global resurfacing event may have shut down plate tectonics and led to a reduced heat flux through the crust. This caused the mantle temperature to increase, thereby reducing the heat flux out of the core. As a result, there is not an internal geodynamo that can drive a magnetic field. Instead the heat energy from the core is being used to reheat the crust.[56]

One possibility is that Venus has no solid inner core,[57] or its core is not currently cooling, so that the entire liquid part of the core is at approximately the same temperature. Another possibility is that its core has already completely solidified. The state of the core is highly dependent on the concentration of sulfur, which is unknown at present.[56]

There seems to be insufficient data on Venus as compared to Mars.
Who knows, maybe Venus is actually the better candidate for terraforming compared to Mars, but we just haven't realized it yet.



« Last Edit: 05/01/2011 06:51 PM by sanman »

Offline gospacex

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Re: Radical Terraforming Methods
« Reply #12 on: 05/01/2011 08:25 PM »
A large mirror in halo orbit around Mars L2 point may help heat it up, and keep it that way.

Online sanman

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Re: Radical Terraforming Methods
« Reply #13 on: 05/01/2011 10:36 PM »
Could there be some way to convert solar wind energy into EM radiation, which could then be directed at Mars?

Offline scienceguy

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Re: Radical Terraforming Methods
« Reply #14 on: 05/02/2011 02:21 AM »
What about taking nitrogen from Titan and moving it to Mars?

Although this project would be outrageously expensive, consider the following calculations:

Mars’ equatorial radius: 3400 km
Surface area of Mars: 4(pi)r^2 = 4(pi)(3 400 000 m)^2 = 1.16 x 10^13 m.
Height of atmosphere: 11 km or 11 000 m.
Volume of Mars’ atmosphere: 1.16 x 10^13 m x 11 000 m = 1.3 x 10^17 m^3.

Imagine a ship with a payload bay of 2 km^3, or 2 x 10^9 m^3.

You would have 10 000 of these ships constantly opening up their payload bay doors and scooping nitrogen from Titan’s atmosphere and taking it to Mars.

You don’t need as thick an atmosphere on Mars as there is on Titan: you only need about 50% of the pressure on Titan to have Earth-like pressure. The rest of the atmosphere (oxygen) you could get from water on the surface and carbon dioxide at the poles.

Thus, you would require (1.3 x 10^17 m^3)/2x(10 000)(2 x 10^9 m^3) = 3250 trips from each of the 10000 ships. If you had 1 ship leaving Titan every day, this would take 3250 days/365 days/year or about 9 years to terraform Mars with nitrogen from Titan.

Sure, this project would be expensive, but what is the cost of another habitable planet for humanity?

EDIT: this is assuming the ships can travel very fast from Titan to Mars. To use current technology you would need way more ships.
« Last Edit: 05/02/2011 02:26 AM by scienceguy »
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Online sanman

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Re: Radical Terraforming Methods
« Reply #15 on: 05/02/2011 03:03 AM »
We really need to investigate the asteroids, to see if there's a convenient source of ammonia really close by. If that's the case, then I'd say take it from the asteroid belt.

Online sanman

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Re: Radical Terraforming Methods
« Reply #16 on: 05/02/2011 03:31 AM »
Tell me something else - if we have our magnetic plasma sail or plasma bubble located 50 million km from the Sun, and the solar wind is streaming into our charged plasma bubble, then will the plasma shield be able to capture enough of these solar wind particles to sustain itself, or will it simply be eroded away and constantly require replenishment from some onboard storage tanks?

Offline QuantumG

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Re: Radical Terraforming Methods
« Reply #17 on: 05/02/2011 08:14 AM »
No defeatism here, just the facts. As far as I know, Mars simply does not have a magnetic field strong enough to protect living organisms from solar and space radiation, let alone protect the atmosphere from solar degradation. If anyone has a source that can refute this position, please post.

You don't need a magnetic field to protect living organisms from solar or cosmic radiation.. if the Earth's magnetic field was to disappear we'd have more problems with our electrical grid but plant/animal life wouldn't even notice the difference.  The radiation protection we enjoy here on Earth is a result of the miles and miles of atmosphere we have above our heads.  This is why airline staff experience significantly more radiation than the rest of us.

See http://www.nsbri.org/HumanPhysSpace/introduction/intro-environment-radiation.html

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Offline baldusi

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Re: Radical Terraforming Methods
« Reply #18 on: 05/03/2011 09:07 PM »
You don't need a magnetic field to protect living organisms from solar or cosmic radiation.. if the Earth's magnetic field was to disappear we'd have more problems with our electrical grid but plant/animal life wouldn't even notice the difference.  The radiation protection we enjoy here on Earth is a result of the miles and miles of atmosphere we have above our heads.  This is why airline staff experience significantly more radiation than the rest of us.

See http://www.nsbri.org/HumanPhysSpace/introduction/intro-environment-radiation.html

Some radiation, like UV, is blocked by ozone. What about ions? What about gamma rays? I'm asking.

Offline scienceguy

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Re: Radical Terraforming Methods
« Reply #19 on: 05/03/2011 09:57 PM »
I don't know about gamma rays, but ions can be stopped in material. The more dense the material and the less energy the particle has, the quicker the particle is stopped.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stopping_power_%28particle_radiation%29
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