NASA proposes artificial magnetic field to make Mars a second home

Can a man-made construction turn Mars from a dry husk to a thriving environment?
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer

Mars has become a beacon of interest for astronomers, scientists, and even businesses which are all working to see if colony missions could ever succeed, but in itself, the planet is dry, dusty, and has an atmosphere roughly 100 times thinner than Earth's.

The planet, in itself, may have once been suitable for life, but this is not the case now.

Mars' atmosphere is composed of roughly 95 percent carbon dioxide, 0.13 percent oxygen, and minor traces of water, nitrogen oxide, neon, hydrogen-deuterium-oxygen, krypton, and xenon. The planet is also far colder than Earth due to the distance from the sun and is usually around minus 60 degrees Celsius on the surface.

While some scientists speculate that frozen water may exist under the surface as a resource for colonies, potential visitors would still have to cope with high levels of radiation, as well as constant, violent oxidized iron dust storms, and, of course, the distance from our home planet.

However, researchers have proposed a way to make Mars more habitable -- by creating an artificial magnetic field to reduce radiation levels.

To combat some of the main barriers to sending humans to Mars, as reported by Universe Today, last week, NASA hosted a discussion and presentation group called the Planetary Science Vision 2050 Workshop.

At the event, scientists and researchers discussed the future possibilities of space exploration and during one talk, NASA Planetary Science Division Director Dr. Jim Green proposed ways to deploy a magnetic shield around the planet which could act as a barrier to radiation and reduce the need for extreme protective equipment.

The proposal (.PDF) relies on the theory that over four billion years ago, the planet's magnetic field vanished, turning the planet from a warm and wet environment to a dry husk.

Without returning some kind of magnetic field to Mars, this situation will not change -- or is likely to become worse.

Green proposes that by placing a magnetic dipole shield at the Mars L1 Lagrange Point, a man-made magnetosphere sphere would cradle the entire planet.

The team says that previous tests in lab conditions suggest that inflatable structures could potentially generate a magnetic dipole field at a level of perhaps one or two Tesla, protecting against both radiation and solar winds.

In addition, such a field could result in Mars' atmosphere thickening over time, creating a greenhouse effect which could increase the planet's surface temperature by up to four degrees and melt northern polar ice caps.

While Green admits the idea is somewhat "fanciful," the scientists insist that it is not outside the realm of possibility, and could assist in the future exploration of the planet.

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