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How bacteria can make Mars lively

Human dreams of becoming an interplanetary species, but no other planet in our solar system can currently support a complex…

  • Human dreams of becoming an interplanetary species, but no other planet in our solar system can currently support a complex life.
  • To make a planet like Mars hospitable to us, we must engage in a massive decades long terraforming effort.
  • Much of what makes the earth viable, such as respiratory air, tolerable temperatures and so forth, is the result of microbial activity from the early history of the earth. Can we use the microbial life to make the same changes on Mars?

Three billion years ago, the earth would not have been so nice to humans. It was covered in active volcanoes, spit out carbon dioxide and water vapor. Single-celled life scratched off the mushroom diet. Most of the atmosphere consisted of carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases, which means that the air is toxic to us and most other modern life on earth.

Then it happened about 2 and a half billion years ago. What corresponds to a snap of fingers in geological schedules, the atmosphere was pumped with oxygen in what we call the Great Oxygenation Event. The oxygen flow meant that new, more versatile forms of life could take on the young planet, like eukaryotes. Speed ​​up a few billion years and a complicated multicellular life like us walking around the world.

So where did this acid come from? Today, we believe that almost all acid on earth came from cyanobacteria a small, blue-green, single life that had the innovative idea of ​​using sunlight to bake water and carbon dioxide into sugar for energy – that is, photosynthesis. Unfortunately for the cyanobacteria, photosynthesis makes the unpleasant by-product of oxygen, which they throw in their environment.

Every breath we take is guilty of cyanobacteria, and this influx of oxygen in our environment is ultimately responsible for why modern souls are so courteous to life. But what the earth gives, the earth also takes away. Whether it’s due to climate change, nuclear war, global pandemic or any unknown disaster, we’ll finally get a new home. But our closest, best hope for a new home – Mars – has no oxygen.

It does not have much of an atmosphere at all, really.

It is said that scientists hope to recreate the great oxidation event on Mars in the same way that it happened on earth.

Terraforming Mars with Microbes

Wikimedia Commons

An artist’s portrayal of a progression of a Mars-terraforming initiative.

While Mars May Be Different from Early Earth In many ways, it has some important features that can make microbial terraforming project work. Mars has an atmosphere of 95 percent carbon dioxide, giving half of the ingredients needed for cyanobacteria to make oxygen. The other ingredient, water, is scarcely scarce on the red planet, but we have seen evidence of its existence. We know the ice is plentiful in the poles, so much that if we were to melt them, Mars would be covered in an 18-foot deep sea.

There is already some liquid water available on Mars to be sure – only in very low amounts. We have seen features on Mars called recurring slopes, which are dark lines that go along the sides of the hills during March summer and fade away in the winter. These dark lines are believed to be the flows of water that come and go with the seasons.

NASA

This image of the side of a martish crater shows recurring slopes. The dark lines that descend from the slope of the crater come and go with the seasons, which may indicate floating water.

So to terraform Mars, we would start with areas where we know that floating water exists and dumps many cyanobacteria there. Certainly, it would be a bit more of a sophisticated operation than what makes it sound, but that’s the essence of the thought. We would also like to include microbes that produce greenhouse gases.

Mars has the opposite problem as the earth; We want to make Mars warmer and thicker atmosphere, so its polaris can melt. More water means more opportunities for the microbial life to do its work. Not to mention that the current climate on Mars is too cold for even the toughest man – it’s averaging about 81 degrees Fahrenheit, although temperatures can vary wildly.

The idea of ​​using microbes to kickstart a terraforming project on Mars is so promising that NASA has already begun preliminary tests. Mars Ecopoiesis Test Bed is a proposal for a device to be included in future robot missions to Mars. It would look like a drill with a hallow chamber inside. The drill would bury in the marsh, preferably somewhere with floating water. A container full of cyanobacteria would be released into the chamber, and sensors would detect if microbial life produces any acid or other by-products.

The first phase of this project was conducted in a simulated martian environment on earth, and the results were positive. Nevertheless, there are some major challenges we must meet if we want to use microbial terraform Mars on a large scale.

Challenges

NASA

Mars Ecopoiesis Test Bed. 19659005] Mars lacks something essential for life-giving planets: a magnetosphere. Mars used to have a magnetic field that protected the planet. We have found magnetized stones on the surface indicating that this was the case, but at some point the magnetic field just disappeared and we are not sure what happened. Without a magnetosphere, the surface of the planet is bombarded by solar radiation, which will make it difficult for more and more complicated life.

This “solar wind” also blows away the martian atmosphere. So, even though we do coaxial microbial life in producing oxygen and other gases, much of it will simply flow into space.

Wikimedia Commons

These images show different elements flying from the martian atmosphere. From left to right, the images show carbon, oxygen and hydrogen floating in space.

Fortunately, these challenges are not insurmountable. In the short term, we are likely to design dome-like habitats to protect both us, our cyanobacteria and our new atmosphere from sunshine. In the long term, NASA researchers have suggested placing a powerful magnet in a solid path between Mars and the Sun. This magnet will redirect the solar wind, protect the martian atmosphere. Since the microbial life continues to expel oxygen and greenhouse gases in the atmosphere of Mars, the planet will heat up, the ice will melt into the sea, and Mars may well be our second home.

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