Earlier this week, the most obvious scientific news in recent memory was reported: there's Uranium on the Moon.
This has been, pretty much, a slam-dunk since Apollo 11. Why? Because we've brought moonrocks back to Earth, and we've analyzed them thoroughly. What did we find? That they're made of the same stuff that Earth-rocks are made of!
I mean, not that that isn't interesting. None of the other rocky bodies in our Solar System have the same composition as Earth, which helped lead us to the understanding that the Moon was made out of the same stuff that made Earth. In fact, one of the coolest biological things (to an astrophysicist) that was done recently was the crushing of moonrocks into a sandy dust, followed by planting seeds in them and watering them. The result?
Marigolds! You can grow certain hardy plants in the soil on the Moon; just add air and water!
So, my question is this: what about other worlds? Say, this one:
We land stuff there. We land highly advanced, mostly autonomous robots there. Mars has some atmosphere; is that enough to grow things? Anything? Mars may be able to support water for short periods of time. If not, we could always bring a pressurized terrarium, and use the Martian soil:
It would be such a curious thing to do, to simply test, firsthand, whether Mars can sustain life or not. Furthermore, it seems easy to do, like this could be a small, standalone thing to piggy-back on the next Mars mission. Can you think of a reason why we shouldn't and/or couldn't do this?
Of course we should! In the Solar System Mars is our second step, the first being the Moon. And by step I mean not Buz Aldrin, I mean terraforming and collonization.
There should be a lot more research done on such things...
Hehehe; I enjoy visiting the nearby Deep Space Communications Complex and if there happens to be a geologist with me that's even better. When they notice the moonrock and start blabbering about it I say "ah, it looks like the rock I kicked out of my driveway this morning."
Can we grow stuff on Mars? Well, if it's sandy then of course we can. If it's all clay that would be a problem. If it has the requisite trace minerals for plants, fantastic - but otherwise a nice sterile sand is also perfect because we can use water with the necessary trace minerals and ions. So my perspective as a chemist is that we only need a good chemical analysis of the available substrates and some characterization of the material bulk (what type of rocks are there). No need to plant anything despite the fact that it would be awesome to stare at the first signs of plant life on an alien world. I imagine such an experiment will require its own lander though; I suspect it will be too bulky and risky to other experiments to be deployed as one big package.
Nights (especially in winter) could be a problem though; there aren't enough "greenhouse gases" in the atmosphere to prevent a large plunge in temperature when the sun is below the horizon, but I guess we can put the marigolds in a triple-glazed vacuum tight pot. On second thought, scrap the marigolds for something that sprouts quickly.
I think the Biosphere 2 experiment (despite all scientific criticism of it) had demonstrated that it would be quite a challenge to achieve some measure of autonomy in a small enclosed system. Perhaps if it can be demonstrated that the ISS can be supplied oxygen via algae and that the oxygen generators will only be needed in emergencies then we can start thinking about things like moon bases. I'd put an airlock between the humans and the plants though; you don't want respiring plants making humans feel tired and sick.
Isn't there a risk that there is already some form of indigenous life on Mars (say a lichen or even just bacteria). Sending an Earth life form there might upset the balance of nature on Mars and stifle life forms that might have a better chance in the long run of populating that planet.
I like the idea, except that I think there is an ethical question of us sending Earth life to Mars before we know more about that planet. There is an air of "Well, we've screwed up our own planet, let's do the same for Mars".
Well, some of the results from the Phoenix mission indicated perchlorate in the Martian soil, which isn't likely to be conducive to plant growth. The atmosphere isn't nrealy thick enough (on Earth it would be called a pretty good lab vacuum, IIRC) and there's no protection from either solar UV or cosmic rays.
And if you're talking about sustainable gardening, then the question becomes a lot more complex. Soil isn't just an inert medium, it's a complex and dynamic ecosystem. Without the whole panoply of micro-organisms to regulate the bio-availability of nutrients, fix nitrogen, etc, you'd probably be better off growing hydroponically.
Oh, and while the experiment with moonrocks clearly does show you can grow marigolds in the medium, they're the scrawniest and least healthy-looking plants I've ever seen that were still alive.
Well, one reason that we might hesitate is for purposes of preservation; I remember reading Red Mars and being struck by the argument that terraforming (or even just significantly altering) the Martian surface amounted to a willful destruction of a unique environment that one could never get back.
In other words, you might not want to seed Mars with life for the same reason we try to preserve the barren and beautiful rock formations in Arizona.
That said, I don't think putting a few marigolds in a terrarium represents much in the way of ruining the Martian biosphere. Not much potential for a Marigold revolution.
I have to say that I'm not overly concerned about the innate 'rights' of Martian microbial life.
But I damn well want to know that it's there and that whether it's independent of life as we know, before we start mucking up the environment over there.
Can you think of a reason why we shouldn't and/or couldn't do this?
Yes. We are out of money. Sorry.
Wow, I would love to chill on Mars! That would be SO cool!
Nope. Mars doesn't generate a strong enough magnetic field to protect its atmosphere from solar wind stripping.
No atmosphere, no terraform, no flowers.
There was a movie where they grew plants on Mars. It had a robot dog in it... I think about growing plants up there every day... to fulfill my dream of being a space farmer...
no I don't think we should try to garden on mars, unless it's strictly indoors. even if mars atmosphere was made up of strictly carbon dioxide, the plants would not thrive. why may you ask? 2 reasons. weather and temperature. mars temperatures are far too high or far too low for plants to survive. plants aren't evolved to handle going from -100 to 200 degrees in a single day or even at all. then there's the storms that would wipe all plant life off of the planet.
if you meant indoors, yes we could garden on mars but we wouldn't be using soil to do it. it would all be done hydroponically or aeroponically. no serious space farming would be done using soil. period.
Don't do that ... not yet at least... you don't want to plant anything on mars when there is a still an open question that micro-life lives on the planet currently... this will cause all sorts of problems in the next 30 to 50 years when people are wondering if the life found on mars existed their prior.. or showed up because we planted it...
I'm not talking the plants we put on mars... I'm talking the bacteria that is on the plants when we send them up...
Should Martian life be discovered one can hope it is truly exotic, clearly distinct from anything found on Earth. Not only would it give biologists a benchmark for comparison, it would demonstrate that life will appear anywhere the conditions are right.
But there is no guarantee Martian life will be alien. It might closely resemble terrestrial life. Given that life on Earth uses only a small number of all possible amino acids it would almost certainly mean a common origin. Since Martian landers are sterilized the chance of Earth microbe contamination is minimized. This leaves panspermia as a likely explanation. Unless a plant grow kit can also be properly cleaned it should be left out of any future unmanned missions. And a manned mission, which cannot avoid contaminating its surroundings, should wait until robotic missions have been used to their fullest.
Instead of going to all the expense of messing with someone else's mission (finger in the air guess your experiment would have to come with $100M for a PI to accept it) and mucking up the planetary protection protocols, couldn't you grind up a Martian meteorite?
But what about this?
"The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds" ?
(A 1964 play written by Paul Zindel, a playwright and science teacher.)
But what about this?
"The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds".
(A 1964 play written by Paul Zindel, a playwright and science teacher, winning the Pulitzer Prize for Drama)
Oops, apologies for the double post.
Nope. Mars doesn't generate a strong enough magnetic field to protect its atmosphere from solar wind stripping.
No atmosphere, no terraform, no flowers.
Now, forgive me for not knowing this offhand, but wouldn't it be possible to "terraform" Mars if your terraforming plan *including* continuously pumping gases into the atmosphere to counter the solar wind? That is to say, if you resigned yourself to not having a stable environment.
I mean, if you're talking about changing the environment of an entire planet, can it really be unreasonable to consider maintaining said environment once you've got it?
Or is the rate of atmospheric loss simply too high to even consider that?
"Can you think of a reason why we shouldn't and/or couldn't do this?"
Ask the people of the SouthEast USofA if they like Kudzu.
Have you ever seen a mature Chessnut tree? Chestnut trees are all but gone. How about city streets totally closed over by Elm trees. Elms used to be (one of) the major trees in cities--now they barely survive. We in the NorthEast and upper MidWest are currently having problems with bugs killing the Ash trees. How many animals have the Australians imported? How many Hawaiin native species have vanished because of imported rats?
There is a reason that space probes are sterilized (however poorly) before being sent to another world.
As one poster already said: NOT YET!
Why is everyone so concerned about harming the Martian ecosystem?? There are billions of planets like Mars that don't naturally support much life if any. First and foremost there are no sentient beings on Mars so who cares if we change it.
Mars is ours for the taking. Lets make the best out of what resources we have and not waste time arguing over the ethics of terraforming a lifeless desert.
The Moon makes no sense. It's soil is highly abrasive and thus wears down most man-made materials. And it seems to possibly have tiny traces of water. Water is very heavy and thus expensive to supply from Earth.
Mars makes a lot of sense. Its soil is not only non-abrasive but very alkaline--aka excellent for growing vegetables. The perclorates found in the Martian soil were found over about 3 inches of (likely mud) that covers a vast frozen ocean over the north pole. In other words, it very likely comes from the salty (perclorate filled) sea it blankets. These perclorates not only require much lower temperatures to freeze but are also very rich in oxygen.
On the other hand, burried glaciers have been identified in the equitorial regions. That means non-salty ice and non-salty soils that should be exceptional for gardening.
(1) land supplies over an equitorial glacier for the main settlement.
(2) send people to melt out a habitat and using wind power to separate hydrogen and oxygen out of the resulting waters for fuel. This can easily melt rock and iron.
(3) build steal milling facilities and start building the hull's of new space craft. Using hydrogen/oxygen, rocket them back to Earth orbit (with water, too) where life support systems can be installed.
Mars' gravity is 38% that of Earth and should take far less energy to launch rockets. This makes Mars a great potential stepping stone for other destinations. It should be the shipyard that supplies an armada of spacecraft for other solar exploits, such as the harvesting of precious metals and ice from various known objects throughout the solar system.
Also--the soil over the glacier should protect from harmful solar radiation and insulate from the extreme cold. I'd use natural spectrum LED lighting within the glacial facility to do my gardening. And brushless (magnetically levitated) wind turbines for power generation, as they require very little maintenance and produce some 20% more electricity. LED lights use little power and last a very long time. And don't send any batteries--use ultracapacitors instead. They are readily available and last also a very very long time.
Hold on buster. Not yet. first we have to determine if life exists or existed on Mars in it's pure state, before we potentially contaminate it with biomass from earth. Don't get me wrong I'm all for terra forming Mars, but there are more important questions that must be answered first. Is there life on Mars? Was there life on Mars? Is there life everywhere in the Cosmos?
Is the earth so screwed up that we're planning to even put a 'biosphere' sort of a terrarium in Mars ? If Earth would heat-up due to global warming or freeze due to yet another ice age, don't you think the conditions for life to thrive on earth will be the same as that of mars? Just take care of earth and leave mars alone.
@toby: no living organism can exist in isolation - if you have one bug you have a gazillion bugs; odds are also extremely good that you'll have very many types of bugs. The martian soil looks pretty bare so far (so as far as we know, no cellular organisms). If there was life in the past we would need to find a likely spot and dig for evidence; perhaps all the life there is buried under a few hundred million years of accumulated dust from meteors. At any rate the landers, despite all the case in assembly and transport, have probably brought their own microbes.
@Andrew: What's to preserve on Mars? If it can be transformed that would be awesome. At the moment we can't even manage our own planet. As for the atmosphere, the reason Mars hasn't got much of one is that the gravity is too low; with the temperatures reached during the day many gas molecules can reach escape velocity. Gas would literally escape to space quicker than you can pump it out. Any martian base would have to be completely sealed.
@Dunc: perchlorates aren't good for plants in high concentration, but depending on what perchlorate it is, it may be a source of oxygen or a useful CO2 scrubber.
What's to preserve on Mars?
You're right that there's no life to preserve.
But, for example, the barren alkali flats of the continental U.S. are often reserved for their natural, if lifeless, beauty. Would the Racetrack Playa be greatly improved by an irrigation system and plants? "The Wave" in Arizona is a lifeless sandstone formation, but we preserve it from even casual hiking - it's so unique and valuable that the state of Arizona limits permits to walk along it to the tens per year.
Just because it lacks life doesn't mean it lacks beauty or is uninteresting, or is even uninformative.
There's also the fact, as others have pointed out, that introducing life to Mars before the question of whether life existed prior to our exploration of the plant could potentially be spoiled; I don't actually think that's much of a danger, but it's a valid concern to at least think about.
Generally, though, I think that if we actually come to the point where it's the survival of humanity or the preservation of an alien desert, I know which one I'd pick. I just don't think we need to make that choice just yet.
Oh, and thank you, MadScientist, for explaining the difficulty in producing a Martian atmosphere.
@Andrew: These places on earth can be left as is and visited by people; I can't imagine enough people on Mars to make any more than the tiniest of changes - at the very least not for thousands of years. Human cities on Mars would have to be very large indeed to make any difference to how we see Mars from earth. Let's say we had a Martian tourist resort - all you need to do is travel outside the city and you'll see the vast largely unmodified Martian terrain - so what is lost?
Maybe we should start collecting asteroids and dumping them on Mars - in a few million years we may have bulked up Mars enough to hold an atmosphere. :) I'm not sure where we earthlings will get the necessary resources or be able to recycle resources to keep up the operation though.
Let's say we had a Martian tourist resort - all you need to do is travel outside the city and you'll see the vast largely unmodified Martian terrain - so what is lost?
Actually, that's exactly my question. Who knows if we picked a unique and/or irreplaceable spot to plop down our interplanetary condo and gardening center? :P
Great Marigolds! but I think we have to go back to biology 101 for this one old boy.
Isn't it that you need to a) have a decent substrate to plant on, so that's a possibility b) need CO2 at a certain level, and therefore a stable atmosphere for the plants to fix carbohydrates, a biosphere could be the only way to go for this in the short term c) water at a certain temperature to remain liquid enough for the plants to sup on. d) enough light.
Oh and it not to vary quite so wildly between the temps of 30 and minus -150 Celsius, Marigolds along with most plants don't like that.
So that's a No we shouldn't grow Marigolds on Mars.
The presence of the oxidizers in the Mars surface soil will require us to first redo the Viking experiments. Since most experiments were of the "heat sample, analyze gases of organics" variety, what you really got was "heat sample, oxidize the crap of any organics, find only CO2".
As for terraforming, since Mars has a so much lower gravity than earth, it will never be able to hold on to a nitrogen/oxygen atmosphere. It might have had one, but all that's left now is the CO2.
Great post as always, Ethan. Your idea to grow a plant on Mars is not unique. Others have proposed it before. For example, when The Mars Society was founded in 1998 they discussed that very thing as one of their possible main projects (They ended up starting FMARS and MDRS instead.). One of the Google Lunar X PRIZE teams (Odyssey Moon, I think) plans to bring a plant in a sealed container to the Moon.
I'm slightly alarmed at the number of people in this thread who don't seem to realise that plants need O2 to respire, as well as CO2 to photosynthesise...
An awesome idea, looking more into this. Should we plant certain soils (after testing in a vacuum with the soil and the air composed of the same conditions as those on mars). Planting there and depositing carbon dioxide produced from other sources, we could thicken the atmosphere and produce oxygens via plants. Skip the early stages of life production that take a bajillion years.
An idea based on general theory, obviously not all aspects/variables are covered but it would be neat.
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Yes. The rovers on Mars have found that the soil is alkaline. You could grow asparagus in it.
hi.I had a research and in my research I prepare a condition for planet growth on mars.I am so intrested in this field.
i think we should have a back up plante just in case
i personaly think that we should because who says we cant and if anyone tryed to stop us we would be VERY sad!!!
Life is the grandest creation and the most exquisite structure in the universe, and intelligent life is the pinnacle of that structure. It is intelligent life that appreciates the desolation on Mars, the beauty of Saturn's Rings, the grandeur of Jupiter; without us they would still exist, but they would not be magnificent, beautiful or grand. They would simply "BE". To put our own expansion and proliferation throughout the universe, which must begin with the transformation of Mars or some other equally magnificent landscape close by, at a lower priority than the preservation of that magnificent desolation, is to deny many other landscapes, elsewhere in our solar system and the galaxy, of the same magnificence and beauty, which can only be endowed by the appreciation afforded it by intelligent life. It is only in the minds of creatures such as us that the beauty exists. We need to stop villifying ourselves for the supposed bad job we've done so far and recognise that we are a creature of unlimited potential, but with highly limited resources and it is the combination of the two that gets us into trouble. We need to eliminate the lack of resources and we will not do that here on this one, slowly depleting planet, recycling more and more until we are recycling everything and there is still not enough. We cannot remain on this one planet forever; one day there will be an asteroid to large to deflect, or the mission to do so will fail, and our existence on earth will be largely over, with little or no prospect of technological civilisation again, if we are not wiped out entirely. A self supporting civilisation on Mars and as many other places as possible is the only way to ensure that that cannot happen. It is worth remebering that Mars will also, one day, suffer the same calamity, forever changing it; if we are there, we might just decide not to let that happen.
Why go to Mars at all, if we keep deforesting Earth,polluting the oceans,destoying aquifers, creating monoculture's,creating life dependant only thru the use of chemicals, then we will transform Earth into Mars...in time.
Hell, by the looks of Mars...we were already there.
I'm surprised there aren't lichens on Mars, given that they grow almost anywhere on Earth that is not the top of a glacier. Even in Antarctica. Apparently, lichens can even survive a bath in liquid nitrogen, so cold temps. may not be the limiting factor.
High levels of UV and solar wind particles on Mars may be the reason why lichens don't seem to grow there. If that's the case then nothing will unless it is shielded and any microbial life on Mars would have to be at depth, sort of like microbes in boreholes on Earth.
I agree and have read potential life would be microbial at depth (to protect from solar and cosmic winds)and/or at the poles,at least shielded by a hole (available water in whatever form), somewhere the sun don't shine but close to where it does shine.A happy medium for the H.Z.
I believe that is where N.A.S.A. is looking...Perhaps just not deep enough.
If were going to plant a garden, why not go big?
The first problem to solve on Mars is to reactivate the core which has been dormant for 4 billion years, (around the time of a speculated pluto sized astroid that plumeted into Mars northern hemisphere)which makes sense since it is well known that residual magnetic dipole coupling in Iron can be destroyed by impact, so too can metals lose their ability to conduct only to be restored by impact.Very few people/laymen have seen this...I have.
Reactivating the core(if that's even possible)thus creating a magnetosphere>ionosphere. That is, if the core is viable and our technology allows an input of steady or burst of renewable power to the core.Sounds like sci/fi but then so did going to the moon.Perhaps Mars just needs a jump start.
Of course the program would have to be A.I. self producing robotics with specific and limited capabilities.
Hi, Ethan. Would you please let me know where you got the image of the moon that is at the top of your blog post?
The answer is yes and as soon as possible.
One day a big rock will wipe out life on Earth. Humanity needs another home. We need to expand out as soon as we can for one simple reason...survival.
Not religious? This should sit well with you.
Religious? Don't worry, if God wants us to stop and kick back here on Earth, He will stop us. Until then, we should be driving on as though our very lives depended on it!
Ok, so now youâre a colonist on Mars, and you want to eat, but thereâs no more room on the windowsill of your crappy habitat for more bean plants. The solutionâs gonna be building greenhouses. Acres and acres of them. If I had to guess I'd say you'd use extremely long reinforced plastic bags. You fill them half way up with soil, pump them full of native CO2 until they get to Earthlike pressures, then lay them in rows, kind of half-buried in the ground. As a farmer, youâd have to supply water and pay the power bills for keeping the pumps running. After all, too much oxygen will kill a plant, so you have to constantly remove it and replace it with fresh CO2 from outside. Now if only there was a market for unwanted oxygenâ¦
Robert Zubrin, in his book The Case for Mars, has an excellent section on this very subject. I'll quote his book here (from chapter 7: Building the Base on Mars):
"Mars' atmosphere, on the other hand, is sufficiently dense to protect crops grown on the surface against solar flares.[...] Martian sunlight levels, at 43 percent those of Earth, are entirely adequate for photosynthesis[...]plants require only 0.7 psi,[...] A fabric only 0.2-mm thick would be sufficient for a 50-meter dome if it were used as a greenhouse only.[...]
on the basis of what we know now, Martian soil is likely to prove an excellent medium for crop growth, considerably better than most land on earth, in fact. [Zubrin provides a table here, entitled 'Comparison of Plant Nutrients in Soils on Earth and Mars'][...]
The physical properties of Martian soil are also likely to be favorable for plant growth, as the globally distributed layer appears to be loosely packed and porous, and well adapted mechanically to supporting plants.[...]Martian soils are known to contain smectite clays.[...]smectites are highly effective at buffering and stabilizing soil pH in the slightly acidic range, and also ensure a large reserve of exchangeable nutrient ions in the soil due to their high exchange capacity.
Zubrin, Robert. The Case for Mars: The Plan to Settle the Red Planet and Why We Must. New York: THE FREE PRESS, 1996. 195-97. Print.
"Witness this new-made World, another Heav'n
From Heaven Gate not farr, founded in view
On the clear Hyaline, the Glassie Sea;
Of amplitude almost immense, with Starr's
Numerous, and every Starr perhaps a World
Of destined habitation..."
-John Milton, Paradise Lost
"No bucks, no Buck Rogers."
Mars temperate climate never reaches above 32 fahrenheit and the low end is negative 135. Most Earth bound plants cannot grow in that environment.
Error in date. It is 4.53 billion, not 4.53 million. Oope.
i would just like to say im 14 and this is my science fair project and i figure if we colonize mars , we are going to have to live in basic self sufficient terrariums and we are going to have to invest trillions od dollars in this progect to transport the soil and water we need to get started also the climate on mars isnt suitible for us but with more money investments we would have huge feilds of solar cells on mars that would be hooked up to climate regulators plus we need to sustain a o2 supply and a water supply ,we have to have the right levels og gases between co2 for the plants to live and o2 for us to live and we would have to have huge water pods filled with hardy fich and we would most likely have a japenease agrarian society growing rice and hardy plants plus we need them to bear fruits all year long for food plus one big problem is what are we to do with waste materials but in thousands of years we could probably do it
also the change in gravity and atmospheric pressure may let worms be twice as succesful alowing them to fertilive the soil even more. though this idea may be impossible its just so awsome to dream about
Man never been on the moon to come back alive. Man cannot make it past the earth's orbit. This farse is breeding the whole bunch of beliefs about the always imminent conquest of the universe which is not hapenning except in the movies. There is no proof that stars are stars and galaxies are galaxies. We cannot make it to the moon, the rocks are like earth's rocks because they are indeed earth rocks. This whole laic religion which I call HATP (human achievement and technological progress) is opium for the masses and its followers are bahaving like posessed by evil spirit when their views are questionned. Personally, I like the idea that the earth is flat. Not so much difference.
Personally, I like the idea that the earth is flat
Personally, I like the idea that Catherine Zeta Jones is sexually obsessed with me.
Sadly, reality is not required to conform to our personal beliefs. We either make our beliefs conform to reality or are considered mentally ill.
Like you are.
@NJ56 Fair enough, this Welsh rabbit whom I met personally is not very sexy. Looking for a sexy body? get your eyes off tv screen. As to walking on the moon, wait and see what will happpen after Armstrong death. He wants to let everybody know but his life would be jeopardized if those facts are released while him being still alive. Untill then, keep dreaming about Martians, other planets and moonwalk.
The discovery of Americas led to their colonisation. The discovery of electric power gave birth to new industries. Creation of ships, planes, cars, pc's, mobile phones led to their mass production - everybody can fly or have those products. Landing on the moon led to science fiction movies boom, only. Colonisation, a succesful return to the moon, further expansion (Mars, 'other stars') are pure dream. Man never been on the moon alive, man cannot get past Van Allen belts. NOT today, NOT 40 years ago. Check the facts. Unmanned crafts prior to Apollos had 30% rate of success, the same rate trying to get to Mars. Apollos had 85% success rate...why? Because it was a mass media event, not scientific or phisical fact. Why the past orbit manned flights have been discontinued? No money to build a rocket? Somewhow USA have money to produce thousands of misiles to kill people all over the world.
We should of sent boxelder seeds for trees pine cones and weed seeds grass seeds and use robotics to plant them and see if they grow and start to produce O2 if weed seeds don't grow nothing will.