June 18th, 2018

Pushing the limit: could cyanobacteria terraform Mars?

Cyanobacteria could be used to render the atmospheres of other planets suitable for human life.

The bacteria that 3.5 billion years ago were largely responsible for the creation of a breathable atmosphere on Earth could be press-ganged into terraforming other planets, research suggests.

A team of biologists and chemists from Australia, the UK, France and Italy has been investigating the ability of cyanobacteria – also known as blue-green algae – to photosynthesise in low-light conditions.

Cyanobacteria are some of the most ancient organisms around, and were responsible, though photosynthesis, for converting the Earth’s early atmosphere of methane, ammonia and other gases into the composition it sustains today.

The photochemistry used by the microbes is pretty much the same as that used by the legion of multicellular plants that subsequently evolved. The process involves the use of red light. Most plants are green because chlorophyll is bad at absorbing energy from that part of the visible light spectrum, and thus reflects it.

Light itself, however, is a critical component for photosynthesis, which is why plants (and suitably equipped bacteria) fail to grow in very dark environments. Just how dark such environments need to be before the process becomes impossible was the focus of the new research.

The team of scientists, which included Elmars Krausz from the Australian National University in Canberra, tested the ability of a cyanobacterial species called Chroococcidiopsis thermalis to photosynthesise in low light.

Previously it had been widely thought that the necessary photochemistry shut down at a light wavelength of 700 nanometres – a point known as the “red limit”.

November 28th, 2017

Worms born in Martian soil suggest farming on Mars is possible BGR

The prospect of a human colony on Mars has rapidly moved from science fiction to reality in recent years, with space agencies like NASA, ESA, and others openly discussing the possibility of manned missions to the red planet and eventually the establishment of full-on settlements. Of course, a self-sustaining Mars colony would need the same things we need here on Earth, including the ability to farm, and scientists in the Netherlands are now reporting that they’ve taken a big step towards that goal by successfully getting worms to reproduce in Mars-like soil.

November 10th, 2017

NASA Believes It Knows How To Make Mars Green Again Forbes

NASA is thinking about introducing an artificial magnetic field near Mars so that it can develop an atmosphere which would hopefully help Mars support life and liquid surface water in the future. If introduced, Mars could have an atmosphere with half the Earth’s atmospheric pressure within a few years and maybe, just maybe, you’ll start seeing friends and family, or even yourself, moving to Mars sooner than you thought.

April 26th, 2017

Scientists Hatch Wild Plan to Terraform a Region of Mars Forbes

A research team has devised a plan to make a portion of Mars more Earth-like by slamming an asteroid into it.

This Mars Terraformer Transfer (MATT) concept would create a persistent lake on the Red Planet’s surface in 2036, potentially accelerating Mars exploration, settlement and commercial development, the team said.

“Terraformation need not engineer an entire planetary surface. A city-region is adequate for inhabitation. MATT hits this mark,” the Lake Matthew Team, the group behind the idea, wrote in a press release last month.

Key to the plan is a “Shepherd” satellite, which would steer an asteroid or other small celestial body into the Red Planet. That impactor would inject heat into the Martian bedrock, producing meltwater for a lake that would persist for thousands of years within the warmed impact zone, Lake Matthew Team members wrote.

February 27th, 2017

Mars: Ripe for an Atmospheric Overhaul? Forbes

An artificial magnetosphere of sufficient size generated at L1 allows Mars to be well protected by the magnetotail. Credit: J.L.Green, et al.

An artificial magnetosphere of sufficient size
generated at L1 allows Mars to be well protected by the magnetotail.
Credit: J.L.Green, et al.

Transforming Mars to make it more livable for humankind could involve creating an artificial magnetosphere for the Red Planet.

This idea has been suggested by a team of researchers, presenting the concept at the Planetary Science Vision 2050 Workshop 2017 being held this week in Washington, D.C.

Arid and cold

Their paper – A Future Mars Environment for Science and Exploration – notes that today, that planet is an arid and cold world with a very thin atmosphere that has significant frozen and underground water resources.

Mars’ thin atmosphere not only prevents liquid water from residing permanently on its surface and makes it difficult to land missions since it is not thick enough to completely facilitate a soft landing.

The research paper, led by James Green, Director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters, explains that when Mars lost its protective magnetosphere, three or more billion years ago, the solar wind was allowed to “directly ravish” the Red Planet’s atmosphere.

October 28th, 2016

Global Warming Could Be The Best Way To Terraform Mars Forbes

An artist's conception of what Mars looks like today, juxtaposed with what Mars may have looked like earlier in its history, when the planet had a thicker atmosphere.

An artist’s conception of what Mars looks like today, juxtaposed with what Mars may have looked like earlier in its history, when the planet had a thicker atmosphere.

We’ve been looking for life on Mars for centuries. Humans have parsed every geological feature that we can find for traces of living neighbors, or at the very least, evidence that some type of creature lived on the red planet in the past. So far, no luck.

In the absence of evidence of life, a not-so-new idea is gaining ground: If we can’t find life on Mars, maybe we could bring life to Mars. Not only that, but we might be able to change the nature of the red planet itself, and turn a dry and lifeless world into a mirror of our own blue and green marble.

It sounds like science fiction, but researchers in the public and private sector are already looking at how current technology can terraform Mars, in part because it would make permanent human settlements much more plausible.

June 25th, 2015

DARPA: We Are Engineering the Organisms That Will Terraform Mars Motherboard

It’s no secret that the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is investing heavily in genetic engineering and synthetic biology. Whether that excites or terrifies you depends on how you feel about the military engineering totally new life forms. If you’re in the excitement camp, however, here’s a nugget for you: DARPA believes that it’s on the way to creating organisms capable of terraforming Mars into a planet that looks more like Earth.

The goal of terraforming Mars would be to warm up and potentially thicken its atmosphere by growing green, photosynthesizing plants, bacteria, and algae on the barren Martian surface. It’s a goal that even perpetual techno-optimists like Elon Musk think isn’t going to happen anytime soon, but it’s a goal that DARPA apparently already has its eyes on.

May 29th, 2015

We Need Three Planets to Keep the Human Race Alive, NASA Scientist Says Motherboard

It’s no secret that uncurbed climate change and population growth are going to (and already have) put stress on the planet. But the situation is getting so bad that one prominent NASA scientist says we have to start thinking about terraforming Mars and that, in order for the human race to survive at current levels, we will eventually “need at least three planets.”

“The entire ecosystem is crashing,” Dennis Bushnell, chief scientist of NASA’s Langley Research Center said Thursday. “Essentially, there’s too many of us. We’ve been far too successful as the human animal. People allege we’re short 40-50 percent of a planet now. As the Asians and their billions come up to our living systems, we’re going to need three more planets.”

May 20th, 2015

Elon Musk and Craig Venter Want to Print Life on Mars Motherboard

Elon Musk knows that Mars will not be terraformed in his lifetime. Still, the SpaceX and Tesla renaissance man does have a vague plan on how to seed life there: He wants to team with legendary geneticist Craig Venter to print life on the Red Planet.

Printing life is not something that’s going to be done tomorrow, but, as we’ve covered before, it’s not a line of thinking that’s totally unprecedented or outside the realm of possibility. Some of NASA’s very best scientists believe that in order to colonize other planets, we’ll need to encode the human genome into bacteria, send those bacteria into space, and reassemble the genomic data they carry once they finally land on another planet.

This is a school of thought that Musk also subscribes to, which is notable, because Musk is, at the moment, the single human most likely to enable our colonization of other planets.

May 14th, 2015

Planting an Ecosystem on Mars, NASA Funds Research For Producing Oxygen On Mars NASA

Taming the brutal environment of Mars for future human explorers to survive and thrive there may demand a touch of “ecopoiesis” – the creation of an ecosystem able to support life.

The NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Program is funding cutting-edge work by Eugene Boland, chief scientist at Techshot Inc. of Greenville, Indiana. The scientist has been busy working in the firm’s “Mars room,” which houses a test chamber capable of simulating the Red Planet’s atmospheric pressure, day-night temperature changes and the solar radiation that cascades upon the planet’s surface.

Inside the Mars room, Boland and his team are testing the viability of using ecosystem-building pioneer organisms to churn out oxygen by using Martian regolith. Some organisms within the test bed experiment planted on the Red Planet also could remove nitrogen from the Martian soil.