Terraforming Mars may be less expensive than climate change mitigation

terraforming _mars_animFrom the Andrew Lillico (via Bishop Hill) the costs of terraforming Mars -vs- mitigating Earthly climate change seem to have similar values and timescales. Josh provides a cartoon as well.

We can terraform Mars for the same cost as mitigating climate change. Which would you rather?

One frequentlyquotedstudy of the global costs of mitigating climate change put them at around $3 trillion by 2100, with the main benefits being felt between 2100 and 2200. Here is alternative way to spend around the same amount of money with around the same timescale of payback: terraforming Mars. A standard estimate is that, for about $2-$3 trillion, in between 100 and 200 years we would be able to get Mars from its current “red planet” (dead planet) status to ” blue planet” (i.e. a dense enough atmosphere and high enough temperature for Martian water in the poles and soil to melt, creating seas) – achievable in about 100 years – and from there to microbes and algae getting us to “green planet” status within 200 to 600 years.

There are two standard objections to such terraforming. First, it is said to be too expensive, altogether, to be plausible. Second, it is said to require too long a timescale to be plausible.  Both of these objections appear decisively answered by climate change policies and indeed energy policies in general. Between now and the 2035 alone, global investment in energy and energy efficiency (in many cases with a many-decades payback period) is estimated at about $40 trillion, of which $6 trillion is in renewables and $1 trillion in low-carbon nuclear. We are willing to spend many trillions on projects that could take over a century to come to fruition.

Josh is on the case:

terraforming _mars

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145 thoughts on “Terraforming Mars may be less expensive than climate change mitigation

  1. We will never be able to successively terraform Mars! It does not have a molten iron core, thus no magnetic shield. The solar wind has already blown away 90% of whatever atmosphere Mars once had and will do it again if we ever created an atmosphere dense enough to support fauna and flora similar to that on Earth. Get real, living in domes is the best we can hope for on Mars, and significant shielding will be required to make that safe.

    Bill

  2. Mars has no magnetic field and not enough gravity to prevent the solar wind from ripping away the atmosphere. Or so I was told some years ago.

  3. Terraform Mars please – Bill Yarber, even if you are right about the solar wind, we could compensate by topping up the atmosphere every few million years. Mars did lose much of its atmosphere, but it kept its air long enough for significant geological changes such as erosion to occur, thanks to the ancient atmosphere supporting running water for a significant period of time.

  4. Aww, see, I was all ready to pipe in and say that this is something I’d gladly fork over some more tax dollars for! At least until I read the bit about the magnetic field.

  5. Mars:
    Earth masses – 0.1074
    surface gravity – 0.3799

    Not enough gravity to sustain a breathable atmosphere long term.
    But the idea is surely not meant to be taken seriously. It is, rather, just another post modern attempt to socially-construct a sickly, fragile, human-damaged story of climate on Earth by pretending it would be cheaper to make a new version from scratch – on Mars.
    Sad & pathetic.

  6. Bill Yarber August 19, 2014 at 2:36 pm

    We will never be able to successively terraform Mars! It does not have a molten iron core, thus no magnetic shield.

    Why, wrap a superconducting coil around the planet, start a current and you’ll have your shield.

  7. Seriously guys, whats you idea of “long term”?

    A reconstructed Martian atmosphere would last at least a million years or so, probably a lot longer – plenty of time to organise the next topup.

    Nothing is forever – eventually Earth will become uninhabitable as well.

  8. How does one go about computing what sort of gravity you need to hold an atmosphere (for how long) and the effects of solar wind? I’ve never thought about it before.

  9. Ditto on the solar wind, magnetic field, etc. If we can terraform Mars, the atmosphere won’t stick around. Of course, facts like that don’t often enter the climate change debate, so why worry? Let’s do it!

  10. Well the magnetic field thing shows precisely why Earth is so important and rare. I hardly need point out that the molten core and high rate is spin are only two parts of this. The third being a moon of similar mass to our moon that exerts sufficient gravity to stop us spinning off our axis.

  11. Uhm, nobody face punch me ok I know it’s just wikipedia. Still, wikipedia seems to think the magnetic field isn’t the primary mechanism by which atmosphere gets stripped away. They cite this Lammer, H.; Lichtenegger, H. I. M.; Biernat, H. K.; Erkaev, N. V.; Arshukova, I. L.; Kolb, C.; Gunell, H.; Lukyanov, A.; Holmstrom, M.; Barabash, S.; Zhang, T. L.; Baumjohann, W. (2006). “Loss of hydrogen and oxygen from the upper atmosphere of Venus”. Planetary and Space Science 54 (13–14): 1445–1456. Bibcode:2006P&SS…54.1445L. doi:10.1016/j.pss.2006.04.022 which I obviously haven’t read. :)
    I seem to be reading that Venus doesn’t have much of a magnetic field either.

  12. “””””…..A standard estimate is that, for about $2-$3 trillion, in between 100 and 200 years we would be able to get Mars from its current “red planet” (dead planet) status to ” blue planet” …..”””””

    Well news flash ! in 100 to 200 years, $2-3 T will just about buy me my morning Senior coffee at McDonalds.

    What do these people use as a substitute for brains ??

  13. TimTheToolMan says:
    August 19, 2014 at 3:05 pm

    The first ship should include hairdressers, phone sanitisers and climate scientists.

    …and banana milkshakes.

  14. The answer is a simple Induction Furnace. Build the induction coils in orbit around the planet. When you power them up, you get an induced current in the core. At sufficient amperage, the current melts the core through resistive heating. At that point, the magnetic field re-establishes itself, and you are on your way. No problem, you just have to dare to think big. I always did want to build an induction furnace so big you could toast a planet with it.

  15. The Mars rover Curiosity cost about $2.5 billion dollars, and weighs about 2000 lbs.

    For $3 trillion, we might be able to get 1500 tons of equipment on the surface of Mars.
    ..
    Anybody know what kind of 1000 ton machine can teraform an entire planet? A full blown nuclear power plant weighs more than 1000 tons.

  16. Edward, you aren’t thinking of economics ot scale. For instance, the first thing we’d build is a large station in a transfer orbit (or just move the ISS). And there are lots of other places where scaling up will improve cost savings.

  17. It’d be a heck of a lot more interesting than watching the idiots tackle “catastrophic” global warming, but of course, doing ANYTHING with Mars won’t slam the people of the world back into the Stone Age (or before it), not to mention that none of the problems of Mars will be OUR FAULT. So there goes guilt as well. I guess that means it’s a no-goer then. Pity.

  18. Edward Richardson says:
    August 19, 2014 at 3:47 pm

    Most plans call for some variation of seeding the planet with lichens and bacteria to start liberating oxygen, eventually establishing a small human colony in a crater and then building the rest of the necessary infrastructure in-situ. You wouldn’t need to transport very much at all in that case, and it would be spread over a long period.

  19. Anybody know what kind of 1000 ton machine can teraform an entire planet? A full blown nuclear power plant weighs more than 1000 tons.

    ————————

    yeah, in the Movie ‘Aliens’ they had a fusion power plant ‘atmosphere processor’ that they euphemistically called a ‘shake & bake’ planet that could do the job. Oh wait, that seems to have presumed that there was a substantial atmosphere already present. well, that and the part about the thing going nuke if the cooling tower got broken probably make it unrealistic.

  20. archonix says:
    August 19, 2014 at 4:21 pm

    Edward Richardson says:
    August 19, 2014 at 3:47 pm

    Most plans call for some variation of seeding the planet with lichens and bacteria to start liberating oxygen, eventually establishing a small human colony in a crater and then building the rest of the necessary infrastructure in-situ. You wouldn’t need to transport very much at all in that case, and it would be spread over a long period.
    =——————

    Might be easier and faster to crash a large, water based comet/asteroid on the surface to supply a ready made sea.

  21. Probably the first thing to do in terraforming Mars is drop a bunch of icy comets onto it. The heat of impact plus the resulting water vapor will heat the surface and provide an H2O/CO2 atmosphere. Icy comets can be navigated toward Mars using mass drivers located on their surface. See also Gerard K O’Neill’s The High Frontier.

    Following raising a water vapor/CO2 atmosphere, Mars is seeded with photosynthetic and denitrifying bacteria, to produce oxygen and nitrogen, respectively. Follow that with soil-producing microbiota.

    It would all take while, but it could probably be done with today’s technology. What an exhilarating and inspiring project that would be! The technological spin-offs would likely be enormous and positive.

    Xenoscientists would be upset, though, because the possibility of ever finding potential Mars bacteria or their fossils would be gone forever. Likewise, enviros would be upset because all that pristine natural Marsness would be polluted with the products of technology; not to say, shudder with humans. Myself – I love the idea. Bringing a dead planet back to life. What’s not to like?

    And think of the river trips down the Valles Marineris! :-)

  22. I can see great value to this. But, before I proceed I must apologize to the readers for subjecting them to my presence twice today on this site. Aw, screw it, I’m not gonna’ apologize.

    Anyway, we all hear about the obesity epidemic. Well, once we’ve successfully terraformed Mars we can send all the obese people (assuming the rockets can get off the ground) to that red planet where, voila (I use that word too much), everybody who’s overweight will instantly weigh about 2/3rds less than they did here on Earth.

    Furthermore (sorry, I’m not done yet), the above exercise will demonstrate that gravity is actually a more powerful natural force than CO2.

  23. You couldn’t even begin to do either of these things for $ 2 trillion. Not much useful stuff can be done for a $trillion. Don’t believe me , look at that the US federal budget and tell me how much truly useful stuff gets done?

  24. Now terraforming mars, establishing manned bases there and on other planets was where I thought we would be now , as a teenager in the 1980s.
    So we survived mutual assured destruction, global cooling and muslim outreach, now the Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global warming is an expensive bust, maybe we could reset our priorities.
    OK for the easily alarmed and running scared sections of humanity, having all our eggs on one planet is stupid(assuming catastrophe happens) so logically there greens will support developing Mars.
    The asteroid is coming, so rational people could easily support an alternate human base.Not to mention the technology developed to terraform planets will most likely double as asteroid removal devices.
    As for the deficiency a planet lacking a magnetic field.. this is an opportunity to think big.
    We are at our best when facing challenges, new frontiers and adventure, the rising madness across the world is partly due to no purpose, no outlet for the energy of young men.

  25. Pat Frank says:
    August 19, 2014 at 4:25 pm

    “drop a bunch of icy comets ”

    It took 10 years for Rosetta to orbit a comet. We don’t even know what it is made of. Even if we planned on “moving” it, it would take centuries for it to be deflected into a collision course with Mars.

  26. Mars atmosphere is 95% C02 and average temp is -55f Earth’s atmosphere is .040% C02 and average temp is much higher.

    People can live there but is would be worse than living in Newark New Jersey.

  27. Tom Trevor says:
    August 19, 2014 at 4:35 pm
    You couldn’t even begin to do either of these things for $ 2 trillion. Not much useful stuff can be done for a $trillion. Don’t believe me , look at that the US federal budget and tell me how much truly useful stuff gets done?

    Ah, another party pooper.

    Of course the price tag for decarbonization is going to exceed $3T by many, many times. Remember the story that we could transform our transportation infrastructure to hydrogen vehicles for $20 billion (this was circa 2005)? Hell, I’d take that deal in a heartbeat if it was true. But wishing doesn’t make it true.

  28. We can’t terraform Venus without also increasing its spin rate. It faces the Sun for 116 straight days which means the surface continues heating up for 2000 hours or so versus Earth which is just 10 hours or so of temperature increase in a typical day.

  29. Nothing is forever – eventually Earth will become uninhabitable as well.
    ===========
    not so long ago earth’s atmosphere was 35% oxygen, as compared to 21% today. Even today oxygen continues to fall. Better get a beachhead established on another world while the getting is good.

  30. It will be cheaper to terraform Mars. 2 Reasons.

    #1 – no liability. You just do it.
    #2 – Since when has a government program ever stopped or come in on budget?

  31. the surface continues heating up for 2000 hours
    ============
    yet there is almost no difference in daytime and nighttime temperatures.

  32. ***just make sure it is not your pension fund! IEA want $53 trillion. yikes.

    13 Aug: RespondingToClimateChange: Swedish bank SEB tops green bond league table
    ***SEB has worked with the World Bank to develop the green bond concept since 2007, in response to interest from pension funds…
    Worldwide, the International Energy Agency says some US$53 trillion of finance is needed by 2035 to prevent dangerous climate change…
    The Climate Bonds Initiative estimates the wider universe of bonds used for climate-friendly activities is worth US$500 billion. In five to seven years’ time, Flensborg expects up to 10% of bond issues to be “green”…

    http://www.rtcc.org/2014/08/13/swedish-bank-seb-tops-green-bond-league-table/

  33. the US federal budget and tell me how much truly useful stuff gets done?
    =============
    the $$ of the project will always grow to fit the available resources.

    Look at Canada. $2 billion for a gun registry that didn’t work. A working gun registry for Canada fits on an excel spreadsheet. But none of the people working on the project had any incentive to see it end.

    Same thing with a trip to Mars. There will be endless meetings to discuss the color of the fabric for the seats.

    You want to terraform Mars? Find gold on Mars. People will find a way to drive there in their 4×4’s.

  34. The adiabatic lapse rate for Mars’ atmosphere is the same as for Venus’. Venus’ atmosphere has a pressure at the surface of 9.2mPa (Earth’s is .1mPa), Mars’ is around 0.4-0.87kPa. Mars needs a lot more atmosphere, starting with nitrogen.

  35. Golden eyes with red hair? I’ll go for it. Lots fewer lib…I mean aliens on Mars than on this planet.

  36. ferd berple says:
    August 19, 2014 at 5:22 pm

    I agree, although Mars is too small to make much difference in the long run. Its total surface area is about the same as Earth’s present land area, but with an ocean, that would soon be cut about in half. Of course people could happily live on a shallow sea.

    Mars’ atmosphere has enough CO2 right now. We just need to increase its combined nitrogen, oxygen, argon, water, methane, etc levels by about an order of magnitude.

  37. There’s an old joke that says if the former (and soon to be replaced) Soviet Union had gotten to the moon first then we’d be on Mars today. In the early days of the space race there was a genuine concern that they could’ve landed a man on the moon first. In retrospect that fear was somewhat unfounded. In those early days all those launches were with ICBMs. The initial greater success of the Soviets was due to the fact that their ICBMs were bigger. The US waited to develop ICBMs till we had more compact, lighter nuclear warheads. Thus our launch vehicles did not have the payload capacity of theirs. The US ultimately prevailed because we had the money back then (certainly not now) to construct purpose built rockets in the later stages of the race. The Soviets did not.

    But, at the time this was not known. And the strategy to compensate for a failure to win this race was for the US to then attempt to land an astronaut on Mars by 1985. Nuclear rocket engines were developed for just such a mission. Nuclear rods would heat the fuel to provide propulsion so oxygen would not be required for combustion, therefore the spacecraft would not be burdened with that additional payload. Once underway the manned capsule would revolve around a counterweight on a sling with the centrifugal force providing artificial gravity to the inhabitants.

    None of this was ivory tower, pie in the sky, theoretical dreaming. To illustrate the seriousness of it those nuclear rocket engines had been successfully test fired in the Nevada desert in the middle later 1960s.

    Alas, this was never to be. Instead of using our energies to satiate the natural human desire to pursue a future in which to find what our imaginations had sent in advance, I fear we will have to, instead, use our energies to prevent a return to a primitive past. Gentlemen, start your engines.

  38. There are two standard objections to such terraforming. First, it is said to be too expensive, altogether, to be plausible. Second, it is said to require too long a timescale to be plausible.
    ————
    Third, the EPA would never approve it. It would endanger some yet to be discovered Martian sand flea.

    Fourth, Occupy Mars squatters would be sent there to block the terraformers.

    Fifth, the Greens would protest: “Keep Mars red!”. I guess that would Make them Reds.

    Oh wait – they already are.

  39. Nitrogen is the biggest problem. We need far more of it than we have detected so far on Mars.
    It’s quite possible there’s enough CO2 sequestered in various reservoirs – polar caps, soil – to provide between 300 and 500 millibars of atmosphere (maybe more?) if the planet can be warmed sufficiently to release it.
    It’s been estimated such an atmosphere would take between 10 million and 100 million years to ‘sputter’ away to space.
    The average animal species lasts around 4 million years. Depending on your view of human history, we may have around 3 million years left in approximately our present form, before evolving into something else.
    But in any event, a man-made atmosphere around Mars will last far longer than any time frame we need worry about at present. And who knows what planetary engineering technology we may acquire in just the next 1000 years alone – easily enough to effect ‘repairs’, I’m sure.
    In my opinion, terraforming Mars is, without question, the single most important thing humans could do with their time and energy over the next few centuries.

  40. sturgishooper says:
    August 19, 2014 at 6:04 pm

    Beg pardon. I mean two orders of magnitude. For some of the atmospheric gases, by a lot more than that. Indeed, to infinity, and beyond!

  41. Neither, who would want another earth with climate mongrels. Sustaining our own planet should be a goal for all. We can’t control the climate or weather. But if we could, it would be great.

  42. Interested says:
    August 19, 2014 at 6:33 pm

    Average animal species “lifespan” is more like two million years, but of course, what counts as a species?

    Australian lungfish appear superficially to be living fossils, but what would their genomes show, could be resurrect one from ten million years ago?

  43. We’ve done such a good job on Earth – yeah, I think we’re ready to take on Mars, and it’s just sitting there not being used. A mating pair each of Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Taoists, Hindus, Sikhs, Wicca, atheists, LGBT, and a cockroach for a colony starter should get things going. What could go wrong?

    [The cockroach would get lonely. 8<) .mod]

  44. Here’s Gerard K. O’Neill’s 1974 article in Physics Today, courtesy of The National Space Society. There’s no reason to suppose that the most effective way to terraform Mars is to start with that first thing.

    It would likely be better done after we already have a strong settlement and industrial base in near space. Let’s start with that.

    Here’s a NASA page on space settlement, with lots of linked free resources. It’s where NASA ought to be putting its time, money, and effort, in my opinion.

  45. dp, considering we’ve come up from an ethically indifferent and bloody evolutionary history, I’d suggest we humans are doing very well.

  46. Yeh.. I saw that movie Red Planet, where the Earth was supposedly poisoned by Man and they had to go to Mars. It ended badly.

  47. Until we can deal with the absence of a strong magnetosphere on Mars, we will have no more success in terraforming Mars than we will in controlling Earth’s climate by way of CO2 regulation.

  48. [The cockroach would get lonely. 8<) .mod]

    That is actually an experiment to see if they are really born pregnant :). Regardless, I’m betting on the success of the roach.

  49. Pat Frank says:
    August 19, 2014 at 4:25 pm

    Bringing a dead planet back to life. What’s not to like?

    The first shipment an include politicians. No need for gravity- because politicians ???

  50. Guys, lifting equipment to Mars in bulk at low cost is entirely feasible.

    The Manhattan scientists found a way – you put your equipment on top of a big steel plate, then detonate an atom bomb under the plate.

    The plate and cargo not only survives, it doesn’t even ablate providing you spray on a thin layer of oil before the explosion.

    Tens of thousands of tons into orbit, for the price of a shuttle launch.

    http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Orion_(nuclear_propulsion)

  51. It’s amazing how much of the commentary here echoes themes from Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars series, but a lot of people probably already know that. The funny thing is that Robinson spends many chapters dealing with environmentalists’ objections to the whole project, going so far as to start a war to unwind it. He also includes religious conflict, but I don’t remember a cockroach.

  52. Tom J says:
    August 19, 2014 at 6:18 pm
    ======
    well said. the essence of competition. today, there is no space race. nothing to be won or lost. no fair maidens, no pot of gold. so we stay home, grow old and fade away.

  53. TimTheToolMan says:
    August 19, 2014 at 3:05 pm

    The first ship should include hairdressers, phone sanitisers and climate scientists.
    ================================
    I disagree. The first shipment of humans to Mars should be the entire population of the DC metro area (while Congress is in session).

  54. Laughing Quietly to Oneself (LQO). How to meet the arbitrary? Why, … with the arbitrary. Terra forming Mars! Hats off to Wattsupwiththat for posting this bit of humor and to James Lovelock who first put some real flesh and bones on “terraforming” in his 1984 science fiction piece, “The Greening of Mars”, co-authered with Michael Allaby (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terraforming).

    Sadly mistaken in his speculations on CO2 and climate, Lovelock was a remarkable self-financed experimentalist and truly integrative thinker about life on earth who, together with Lynn Margulis did much to bring to mainstream science the idea that life regulates physiological conditions on earth in a non-teological manner arising out of natural selection.

  55. Khwarizmi says: August 19, 2014 at 2:55 pm
    Mars:
    Earth masses – 0.1074
    surface gravity – 0.3799
    Not enough gravity to sustain a breathable atmosphere long term.

    Saturn’s moon Titan has lower gravity than Mars, yet has an atmosphere 1½ times heavier than Earth’s.

    We could supply the magnetic field by borrowing the rare earth magnets in all the wind turbines and planting them on the surface.

    A bit of crowd-sourcing, and we’d be on our way — oops, forgot that Mars has an unspoiled, pristine environment.
    .
    As for Kim Stanley Robinson, he can brilliantly analyze a situation in profound depth, and unerringly come up with an appropriately totalitarian solution. Saw him on a skeptic-free global warming panel discussion Sunday. Capitalism seemed to be the main problem, that and the denialists’ confusing the gullible media with false facts. More later.

  56. The Golden Eyed comment was a reference to Ray Bradbury’s mysterious little story about colonizing Mars. Once again, life imitates art in this post.

  57. Is there a glitch in the giddyup? All of my comments (or most of them) are going directly to moderation since yesterday.

  58. Mars will need two more marzs moved to it in mass before it has a chance of maintaining ground level temperatures equivalent to our environment on earth.

    Pamela, there are billions of people on this planet who’s grasp of physics, chemistry, biology, geology and meteorology is SO poor that they have more trust in corrupt politics than they have wits to rub together. Most of them find their way here from time to time. The only way to be sure to find a lost ring is to collect everything it may have fallen into… *I* am not responsible for the slow-down and still off an apology for it. I could have done more in my life to either educate or mislead these fools to their early deaths and have not.

  59. Oops, left out the bit that “global warmists believe global warming so much that they think it can terraform other planets on cow farts alone”

  60. Terraforming Mars is science fiction. Maybe not if we enclose Mars in a giant glass sphere. Trust the cost-benefit analysis of the experts. Lomborg surveyed 60 eminent economists including Nobel Laureates in economics. They say money is better spent in deworming of schoolchildren than in climate change. These guys are really smart!

  61. Equating the two is generally pointless – unless you could actually do something on a terra formed Mars, i.e. you have to include the costs of moving you + civilisation over there (plus, you would actually need to feel an urge to move there).

    100 years? I had recently seen a show with an astro-physicist from Munich on terra forming Mars and he said it would take several 10,000 years… you might wanna find consensus on that number before calculating the cost…

  62. Terraforming Mars is theoretically feasible, but a fundamentally bad idea.
    The one thing that can never be changed is the gravity, which is one third of Earth’s. Anyone who lives with that for any length of time would have extreme difficulty re-adapting to Earth-like gravity, which is what our bodies are designed for.
    We can create as much Earth-like habitable space as we want for millennia by constructing habitats in space, like the cylinders proposed by Gerard O’Neill back in the 1970’s.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/O'Neill_cylinder.

    Structures like this can be built relatively small to start with, but over time can be made truly immense, and gravity – based on rotation – can be set at any desired value. The materials to construct them will be mined from asteroids, no need to lift mass into Earth orbit – other than the people to live in them.

  63. But terraforming Mars would destroy the Martian environment and the native Martians. Have you no respect for the environment?

  64. Slightly on-topic: The original article was actually putting the costs of mitigating climate change on this planet into context.

    The point being that terraforming a whole other planet (in the same time) is obviously very expensive. Many people seem to think it’s just a few pennies on the fuel bill.

    The article was a discussion piece asking people to consider whether this phenomenal expense is really what they want to do.

  65. TimTheToolMan

    The first ship should include hairdressers, phone sanitisers and climate scientists

    ROFLMAO

    The Project Manager must ensure that Al Gore never gets near Mars for fear of unprecedented CO2 precipitation turning the planet into a Snow Globe

  66. Everybody here underestimates the ability of comets to create atmospheres. It takes neither (much) time nor a complex process. For instance the nitrogen of our atmosphere was basically brought by comets.
    Just consider the Halley comet as an example. Its mass is 2.10^14 kg and is very small compared to planet’s sizes with a size of only 11 km.
    Now consider the comet hitting Mars surface – the huge energy liberated by the collision causes the whole comet and parts of Mars to evaporate. So we obtain instantly 2.10^14 kg of gaz (lower bound).

    The Earth’s atmosphere weighs 5.10^18 kg. As Mars is smaller, the volume of Mars atmosphere is about 10 times smaller than Earth so if Mars had the same atmosphere as Earth it would weigh about 10^17 kg.

    Now you just compare with the vaporized comet – the gaz released represents 0.5 % of an Earth equivalent atmosphere (actually more because one should add the gaz of vaporised Mars surface). And as Mars atmosphere density is about 1 % of the Earth, our single comet would simply approximately double the current Mars atmosphere.
    So if the target is to obtain a density about 30% of Earth’s atmosphere (e.g summit of Himalaya), one would need approximately 30 comets of the size of Halley.

    This is clearly no impossible target and certainly one that would be worth to spend money on.
    The selection of the comets and the modification of their orbit to impact Mars is another matter but one that can be solved too.
    Last would come fine tuning of the atmospheric composition via biologic processes. Sure that would take time but as the CAGW morons are talking about centuries, for such a much worthier goal we can afford centuries to transform Mars too.

  67. We could use two photon torpedoes and a Heisenberg Compensator to generate the magnetic field to keep the atmosphere on Mars. Unfortunately photon torpedoes will cost 10-20 trillion to develop and so this project is not a viable alternative to the 2-3 trillion “save the earth” project. Why, we could save the Earth 10 times over for the same price as terraforming Mars! Just think about it for a second. We can afford to destroy the Earth 10 times and rebuild it for the same price as terraforming Mars. So why are we so worried about destroying it just this once?

  68. TimTheToolMan
    The first ship should include hairdressers, phone sanitisers and climate scientists

    Well at least there will be two useful people on the ship!

  69. Matt says:
    August 19, 2014 at 10:30 pm
    “Equating the two is generally pointless – unless you could actually do something on a terra formed Mars, i.e. you have to include the costs of moving you ”

    You are right. I checked out a few moving companies, and even with free packing material I cannot afford to move to Mars.

  70. We will lend them the windmills off the North Wales coast. they can be powered up as fans to repel the solar wind. They will have to pay packaging and post costs.
    We get our wonderful view back and they get a whole planet to play with.

  71. Pat Frank says:
    “Probably the first thing to do in terraforming Mars is drop a bunch of icy comets onto it.”

    Took my best idea right there. However I can add that with good enough science and math, the mass of added comets would move the orbit a little as it is added (I am thinking of sending a lot of comets). So the impacts should be calculated in such a way as to provide the ideal rotational speed, and with each nudge adding to the orbital velocity in the right way so it doesn’t go wandering away.

    In the end the planet could weigh perhaps only 0.1% more but have enough water and atmosphere to sustain a wide variety of life.

    Once it warms a bit there may be quite a number of surprises concerning water below ground and life forms that live on sulfur.

  72. The closest you could get to terraforming Mars is to build bio-domes that are air tight with fusion reactors to produce energy to keep them warm and grow-lights so plants can photosynthesis normally.

  73. Terraforming Mars??
    Already have the blue print in author Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Mars trilogy.
    The three novels are Red Mars – Colonization-(1993), Green Mars -Terraforming-(1994), and Blue Mars -Long-term results- (1996).

    Available on the internet for those who want a good Sci-fi read.

  74. Slow down people, some of you have fallen into the “Eating people is wrong*” trap. I think what the article does is highlights the cost and futility of trying to mitigate climate change using the terraforming of Mars (a task comparable in complexity and cost) as a straw man.

    *the instant reaction to Swift’s “Modest Proposal”

  75. You just need to find the giant Oxygen Generators left there by an ancient alien civilization. There’s this Schwarzenegger guy who can tell you where they are.

  76. At 58, if it weren’t for hairdressers my hair would now be salmon colored as my strawberry blond/copper/nutmeg/cinnamon hair gets streaked with gray. So I would have to have hairdressers on Mars. As for the golden eyes, that would be too cool. There is one drawback. my Irish skin would not like that sun. Not one bit. The upside? I am drawn mysteriously to anything colored any shade of red. For that matter, even the Barbie Doll I got for one of my childhood birthdays (which I still have) has red hair. So what the hell. Send me up with a lifetime supply of sunscreen. Bonus. The less than Earth gravity would mean that I would weigh less. What’s not to like?

  77. “We can terraform Mars for the same cost as mitigating climate change. Which would you rather?”

    ‘Mitigating’ something natural that’s been changing by itself and self-moderating un molested for several billion years. This is a gag right?

  78. Pamela Gray says:
    August 19, 2014 at 9:36 pm
    Is there a glitch in the giddyup? All of my comments (or most of them) are going directly to moderation since yesterday.

    Same.

    [Yes, there are many more dozens comments dropping into moderation the past few days than normal. The clause of the cause for the pause in the queue for the many is not clear right now. 8<) .mod]

  79. denniswingo says:

    August 19, 2014 at 5:01 pm

    Before dismissing Martian terraforming, read Robert Zubrin’s book on the subject.

    Thanks Dennis! Interesting stuff.

  80. Didn’t the governator do this in a movie? But they needed an ancient-alien construct to get it done…

  81. Even better – terraform Jupiter, 2001-style.

    Just compress the gasses in Jupiter’ atmosphere by turning them into carbon compounds, so that Jupiter gets dense enough to fuse and become a sun. And then you get a complete new solar system on our doorstep.

    See 2001, a Space Oddysey (the book version). Probably would not work, but it was a good read.

    R

  82. Interested says:
    August 19, 2014 at 6:33 pm

    The average animal species lasts around 4 million years. Depending on your view of human history, we may have around 3 million years left in approximately our present form, before evolving into something else.

    I doubt humans will evolve naturally any more. We change our environment to suit us, instead of changing to fit into our environment. Regressive genes are allowed to prosper instead of dying off as they used to. And no, I’m not proposing Eugenics or anything of the sort. Just stating an observation. I mean, look at Jersey Shore and Climate Science. No way we’re evolving.

  83. ralfellis says:
    August 20, 2014 at 7:30 am

    Even better – terraform Jupiter, 2001-style.

    Just compress the gasses in Jupiter’ atmosphere by turning them into carbon compounds, so that Jupiter gets dense enough to fuse and become a sun. And then you get a complete new solar system on our doorstep.

    See 2001, a Space Oddysey (the book version). Probably would not work, but it was a good read.

    Making Jupiter a sun is not terraforming. Europa was the new “earth”.

  84. Divert an ice heavy asteroid, or more likely a comet, into a collision course with Mars. If it was big enough, the impact would add heat and several cubic miles of water to the surface system. It might take a few solar orbits for the debris to settle down, but afterwards the atmosphere of mars would be much thicker and wetter.

  85. Sounds like a good project, but I need to see what the models show and will need the 97% thumbs up before it is a go. Changing the Angry Red Planet into the Loving Blue/Green Planet will make all the greenies happy.

  86. I suppose, Lewandowsky did the review for this project. If I had the choice, I wouldn’t spend my money on any of these two idiotic plans.

  87. We make a fleet of “planet skimmers’ that orbit between Venus and Mars. They just dip into the Venus atmosphere enough to pick up a (velociy compressed on board and refrigerated to liquid) load of gas, then at the Mars end they vent it (in such a way as to boost velocity). With enough of them, and enough time, both planets get more comfy ;-)

    Nuclear power drives the refrgeration / rocket thrust… any leakage will be long decayed by the time folks move in…

  88. Mark Bofill says at August 20, 2014 at 6:44 am…
    I’ve no objection to talking about terraforming Mars. It is wildly speculative and so fun.

    My comment was meant for those who thought the original article genuinely proposed terraforming Mars. It wasn’t doing that, of course. It was using the example to put Climate Change mitigation costs into perspective.
    (Which I thought was quite a clever piece of writing)

  89. I wonder if the topic somehow got reversed on the way to the forum. The EcoLoonies are hell-bent on Marsforming the Earth to the extent they’d like to ride it of genus Homo sapien. Surely, Homoforming Mars would be off the table as they’re already in a lather that we’ve Homoformed Earth.

    The spread of humans and their large and increasing population has had a destructive impact on large areas of the environment and millions of native species worldwide.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human

  90. Actually, scientists have recently announced teleportation of an electron. Once they get up to CO2 size, they will be able to transfer the CO2 on Venus to Mars and we will wind up with three habitable planets in the solar system.

  91. Terraforming Mars………!!!!
    ————–
    I am not sure and I do not know about the rest and the many, but when it comes to myself and self measuring and evaluation I try to keep always in mind one particular effect, which I call it the “mirror” effect. Is the ability of one person to try and be able to see and measure where it stands, how he “looks”, how is performing, and how exactly he fits with the rest of the world, the environment, or the universe for that matter, by means of reflection of it’s own and it’s own deeds,achievments, action and reactions.
    Same I think may hold true for a group of people or even a civilization of an inteligent enough specimen..
    Said all this, when it comes to the “Mars terraforming” I see only one thing concerning us the civilized humans, as we stand at the very moment………..the perfect blend of mediocracy and megalomania.
    Trying to run and break records before been able to walk and while actually only able to badly craul is the best recipe for failure.
    It seems to me like humanity is in a very desparate need for that “mirror”, so much desperate that the brighter minds are struggling to invent and create any possible such effect regardless of it been only an illusion and unreal.
    From my own observations I see that this has been so thik lately.
    Especially while “Terraforming Mars” is put and linked in the context to the climate change, from my point of view the handicap becomes even more obvious.
    First thing that comes to mind when exposed to an argument as such is…….. a desperate attempt to runway and escape from reality.
    We know next to nothing about our own Earth system, probably that’s one of the main handicaps of failure to understand the climate system, and in the same time we confidently pretend on terraforming Mars like that is so simple and easy….matter of fact !!!!!
    In the end, from my point of view it seems like a good desperate talk for nothing at all……except for it reflecting our own shallow and mediocre approach to a problem as climate change….

    cheers

  92. The planets are worthless. The larger asteroids can be tunneled out to the equivalent land area of the US each and give up trillions worth of resources.

  93. Let me get this straight. According to climate scientists, melting polar ice caps will destroy Earth but save Mars. Talk about irony.

  94. Jeff Alberts says:
    August 20, 2014 at 7:33 am

    Jupiter would need on the order of 100 times more mass than it has in order to sustain fusion. This wasn’t well understood when Clarke wrote “2001”.

  95. Tim Obrien says:
    August 20, 2014 at 10:13 am

    Ceres (2.85 million km²) has about the surface area of Argentina (2.78 million km²), but, you’re right, borrowing into asteroids makes more sense than surface colonies. Vesta’s area is about the same as Pakistan’s (~800,000 km²). Pallas is around the combined size of the Pacific Coast COW states, ie California, Oregon and Washington, plus Nevada.

    Collisions still happen in the asteroid belt, as of course out of it as well.

  96. Jeff Alberts says:
    August 20, 2014 at 7:31 am

    Humans are not only evolving, but doing so quite quickly, given our rapid population increase.
    ______________________________
    +1
    That is ex-act-ly the reason why adaptation will always beat that bungling with CO2 emission by far. It’s the alarmists that are incapable of learning this and so, I hope, they will soon become extinct.

  97. sturgishooper says: August 20, 2014 at 10:46 am
    Jupiter would need on the order of 100 times more mass than it has in order to sustain fusion. This wasn’t well understood when Clarke wrote “2001”.
    _______________________________

    Are you sure? It is density that ignites fusion, not mass. Clarke’s proposal was to increase the density of Jupiter by turning gasses into solids.

    And this is terraforming, because the new solar system would give perhaps four extra Earths.

    ralph

  98. Process of star formation as presently understood:

    http://abyss.uoregon.edu/~js/ast122/lectures/lec13.html

    Observation shows that “brown dwarfs” of about ~13 times the mass of Jupiter may fuse deuterium and those of ~65 times also could fuse lithium.

    http://www.universetoday.com/19237/dense-exoplanet-creates-classification-calamity/

    To be the smallest true, hydrogen-fusing star, ie a red dwarf, requires a mass of at least 75-80 Jupiters, but probably more in most instances. They’re still smaller and cooler than sun-class stars, but far more numerous and longer-lived.

  99. Oxygen: Water vapor will photodissociate into hydrogen and oxygen, and the hydrogen will diffuse from the top of the atmosphere into space because its molecular velocity would be higher than the escape velocity. Nitrogen or argon would be handy as a diluent (if any could be found). Or neon or kyrpton (but likely to be less available). There aren’t too many other gases that are safe to breathe (or don’t have anaesthetic effects). Maybe freon? (ick!)

    Titan: The atmosphere of titan is nearly at cryogenic temperatures. There are no molecules traveling fast enough to exceed the escape velocity, thus the atmposphere remains.

    More Oxygen: Another approach would be (nuclear reactor) + (iron oxide Martian surface material) => (iron structural products) + (oxygen exhaust). (Martian atmosphere plant per Edgar Rice Burroughs.)

  100. The magnetosphere may not be important in retaining an atmosphere, as shown by Venus, but it is important in retaining water vapor. The magnetosphere is also very important in deflecting damaging radiation. If we were to somehow create a habitable atmosphere on Mars you better wear plenty of sunblock, like the SPF 5000 stuff from Robocop 2.

    Also, wouldn’t large comet impacts send most of the vaporized material into space since Mars has a low gravity and hardly any atmosphere?

  101. Robert W Turner says:
    August 20, 2014 at 1:14 pm

    It might be possible to engineer a low-speed impact, such as is thought to have formed the Dark Side lunar highlands.

  102. Terraform Mars?

    Whatever for? They won’t like it after we’ve made Mars into another terra firma.

    First they’ll complain about how hard it is to get a tan, then it’ll be the air smells, and all of that red dust stains on the suits.

    If the eco-dotty want Mars terraformed, then they should follow Josh’s excellent suggestion which is remarkably similar to one of the ‘Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ endings.

    I’m sure we’d all consider possibly contributing to eco-terra-reformers getting launched towards Mars. Certainly all of those impressively credentialed scien-buffoons can finish the trip on their own initiative. They’re experts, right?

  103. Robert,

    Also, wouldn’t large comet impacts send most of the vaporized material into space since Mars has a low gravity and hardly any atmosphere?

    Maybe put a comet into a decaying orbit around Mars?


  104. James the Elder says:

    August 19, 2014 at 3:58 pm

    psion (@psion) says:
    August 19, 2014 at 2:54 pm
    Interestingly, Venus also has no magnetic field.
    ———————————————————————————————
    More gravity, and the heavier molecule CO2 resists the wind, much like Mars.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atmospheric_escape

    Magnetic fields appear to need two things. 1. Molten core. 2. Reasonable rotation rate. Essentially, Venus rotation is at a dead stop with a small drift in the backwards direction. Hence, Venus could be liquid core and mantle but no rotation means no field. Mars is much smaller than Earth and spins very close to 24 hrs per day – no field suggests no liquid core. Being smaller- less mass to cool off after formation so it’s very likely that the core solidified billions of years ago.
    Solar wind may have settled down a bit since Mar’s earlier days when it lost its magnetic field but it’s probably totally foolish to think we could teraform Mars. There is this giant canyon which might make a really great ‘dome’ and living accomodations but one should remember that Mars is much smaller than Earth surface area wise.

  105. Everyone misses the obvious and frequently proposed solution to the lack of a magnetosphere: nickel-iron asteroids. What a coincidence that we happen to have a few relatively close to mars itself! You move them into synchronous orbits and magnetize them with loops. Occasionally you’ll have to re-magnetize them, but that’s no more involved than hooking up a suitably healthy power source (think orbiting small nuke) to the coils and running some current through them.

    You won’t end up with just a simple dipole like Earth has, but who cares? This isn’t the big issue with Mars.

  106. I made a comment about terraforming, and got ripped apart by the people that didn’t like my conclusion. That made me dig even deeper, and refine my ideas. Here is the link to my weblog where I just posted my response (the original post was removed from the other site) for the second time.

    Current ideas of what’s needed to actually create a habitable planet include enough mass to maintain a molten iron core, sufficiently fast rotation for that core to create a magnetic field, a large enough moon to balance the rotation, create tides, and aid in atmospheric flow, the right combination of atmospheric gasses, and the ability for water to exist as a liquid. Earth is the only planet in our solar system that currently meets those criteria. To terraform Mars, we’d need to add a TREMENDOUS amount of mass, much of it dense (i.e., metal-rich); increase the surface temperature through additional gravity compression of the atmosphere, and give Mars a moon big enough to add stresses that would result in plate tectonics. For Venus, we’d need to move something like Vesta into a VERY CLOSE orbit for a few thousand years to speed up the planet’s rotation (which is why it has such a weak magnetic field), stir up the atmosphere, and get the planet to acting more like Earth.

    Terraforming both Mars and Venus is doable, but it won’t be easy, it won’t be cheap, and it won’t be quick, except perhaps in a geological time scale.

  107. mikeweatherford says:
    August 20, 2014 at 7:34 pm

    Thinking big on solar system engineering. I like that, but ultimately the sun is going red giant.

  108. Hi, years ago, Carl Sagan suggested it would not be tooooo hard to terriform Mars. However, he didn’t know as much about Mars as we do now. It’s too cold mates.Frozen CO2? Not worth the trillions for heaven’s sake. We may also awaken things that have been laying dormant for centuries too. Anyway I’m off to shop, have fun.

  109. Well, a choice between having my head cracked open with a baseball bat (mitigation) or a free meal at the restaurant of my choice (Mars). Same price. I will take the life-positive one, thank you.
    CO2 is good for both plants and animals, and the ideal temperature may be as much as twelve Celsius degrees warmer than the present, from paleontological charts indicating that this was the temperature in the Cambrian and Permian, very steady.
    Let’s allow Earth to grow richer in life instead of trying to stop it–YES.
    And WUWT’ers know that the real issue of Climate Change is money. Mars would cost LOTS of money–and yes, we really would end up with a habitable 2nd home. So there is a chance that promoting this might REALLY redirect greedy people from “saving” the Earth for nonliving things into something that would be an eventual benefit.
    This post also illustrates the value of nuclear fuel. It is for SPACE not Earth. We need a few new reactors per year worldwide to train space engineers.
    I have an article on the 1960’s US space program that says there was a debate between building a one-shot rocket that went from Earth to Moon and back again, versus dividing the job into pieces. A two-ship design was eventually used: Earth to lunar orbit, and lunar lander.
    Today, we need to build a five-stage program.
    1. We already have Earth-to-Earth orbit shuttles and rockets.
    2. Space stations. We have one and I think we need two or three more.
    3. Nuclear powered orbital shuttles that go from Earth orbit/space stations to orbits around the moon and Mars. They hold cargo and throw sturdy construction materials down to the lunar and Martian surfaces where we will build our first cities. We can build solar-powered ones, too.
    4. Orbital docking stations around the Moon and Mars. Mars’ moons can be used if they work.
    5. Lunar and Mars landers.

    I would love to see International space contests to build that stuff added to the Olympics opening or closing ceremonies. Private individuals are allowed to compete.

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