• Question: Is terraforming actually possible? Would it be possible to inhabit another planet?

    Asked by butters to Amy, Drew, Julia, Kimberley, Sara on 15 Jun 2011. This question was also asked by bethelunssy, teganglackin, aharrison, mccro123, catherinemaguire, smccall, sdavis, eviej26, smayo.
    • Photo: Drew Rae

      Drew Rae answered on 14 Jun 2011:

      Butters, you’re asking some great way-out questions today. People have put a lot of thought into terraforming, mostly based on the idea of terraforming Mars. Sara can probably tell you a lot more than me, but here’s a little bit about it. One of the researchers most focussed on the question is a guy called Chris McKay at Nasa. The main limit seems to be the sheer amount of energy involved. We need to boost the temperature of Mars by enough to free up some of the Carbon Dioxide locked into ice at the moment. This will hopefully start a greenhouse gas positive feedback cycle driving the temperature upwards and creating a CO2 rich atmosphere, perfect for starting introduction of plant biomass.

      The energy involved in heating up a whole planet is enormous. We’ve probably managed it by accident on earth by dedicating an entire planet-wide civilisation to pumping out greenhouse gasses (that’s what it might look like to aliens observing us).

      On Mars, we would need machines to make energy to make more machines to make more energy and so on until we had enough energy collection or production to start heating things up. It’s a big engineering job, but doesn’t actually need any technology we don’t have.

    • Photo: Amy MacQueen

      Amy MacQueen answered on 14 Jun 2011:

      I don’t really have any expertise on this…I really hope Sara jumps in with some more answers!! 🙂 …by the way your questions are amazing!

    • Photo: Julia Griffen

      Julia Griffen answered on 15 Jun 2011:

      I hey butters… not really an expert on this subject, space and physicsare my weakness.. sorry dude.

    • Photo: Sara Imari Walker

      Sara Imari Walker answered on 15 Jun 2011:

      Hi Butters! Great question!! Drew has done an awesome job describing how we might terraform Mars. I am a huge fan of Chris Mckay, he is a really cool guy. Really smart and not afraid to think big! Since Drew did such a good job with describing how we could possibly terraform Mars I won’t reiterate. But I do want to add why Mars is a good candidate for terraformation. Terraform literally means – make like Earth. Mars is the most Earth like planet we know so it is a good candidate. In fact early in the history of the solar system Mars and Earth may have been quite similar – can you imagine a warm wet Mars of 2 billion years ago? Sounds so different from the dry cold planet we see today. Terraformation is definitely possible though, Mars makes it “relatively” easy since it is fairly similar to Earth. Other discussed bodies in our solar system for terraformation are Venus and Europa. You probably know a little about Venus. Europa is interesting – its a large moon of Jupiter that has a might have a giant ocean under its icy surface. Might be a fun place to live 😉

      In general, terraformation would take a lot to accomplish. So to answer the second part of your question – yes it would definitely be possible to inhabit another planet. The more Earth like the better. But we can always build space stations that have nice cozy environments for people. I mean we have the International Space Station. People live there year round and that is in SPACE. Why not on the moon? Or Mars? Or somewhere else? Where would you go?

    • Photo: Kimberley Bryon

      Kimberley Bryon answered on 15 Jun 2011:

      I don’t know much about it but Sara and Drew seem like experts. From what I understand it is technically possible but would be difficult to do.