One of the pioneer ventures that brought Elon Musk into the limelight is the “quest for a better future and living as a multi-planetary species.” A year down the line, launching rockets and building reusable rockets, all in a bid to minimize the cost of traveling to space, we are still far from living in space.
Elon is not the only player in this game, even NASA has explored, researched and toured so much of space, in the quest of making it habitable for men. Scientist in NASA has seemingly given up on the quest, due to the fact that all methods devised to tweak the atmosphere and make it similar to ours, has failed. While failure rubs in the face of NASA, and SpaceX prepares to launch a Spaceship soon, Harvard seems to have an answer.
We all know Harvard, a school full of geeks, and alongside MIT have been leading institutions for research in both science and technology. This time, Harvard claims they have an answer to the issue with habitation on Mars.
The main problem is that there is no enough carbon dioxide on Mars for the planet to stay warm. If all the CO2 sources present in Mars are processed, the atmospheric pressure would only rise to about 7% of that on earth. What a big difference! According to NASA, to have a life living in Mars without life support, there is the need for a technology which we don’t have in the world today.
Now, let’s take a look at what Harvard plans to do. According to their research, there is the suggestion that an insulating material called “Silica aerogel” can be used to bring about the growth of plants on Mars. If this can be done, it is bound to support life. One cool thing about this tech is that it does not necessarily need to cover the whole planet before it can work.
According to the Associate professor of Environmental science and Engineering at Harvard, Robin Wordsworth, “we propose to use thin layers of silica aerogel to heat the surface of Mars to the melting point of liquid water, in order to create habitable conditions there. The silica aerogel warms the surface due to the solid-state greenhouse effect. This effect arises naturally on the Martian surface in CO2 ice and is responsible for the enigmatic dark streaks we see near the poles from orbit. Silica aerogel is an amazing material that is optimal for our purpose because it is translucent and extremely light, but it blocks UV radiation and is incredibly effective at trapping heat.”
Yes, all these are still in theory, and science has made us known that something might work in theory, but fail when put to practice. However, Wordsworth and his colleagues have strong reasons to be optimistic about the hypothesis.
In the demonstration of this idea, they put up a solar simulator in a lab, to mimic the flux and spectrum of Martian sunlight. Then they placed sheets of aerogel over dark material and then measured the resulting solar flux with the use of pyranometer. They also used an array of thermistors and thermal camera to measure and record the temperature. Then with the aid of a computer, they were able to observe data about the change in climate in Mars, then simulated the evolution of a silica aerogel habitable zone on the surface over several Mars years.
There is so much to do if this theory is going to be realized. However, with the numerous mission planned for Mars next year by the likes of US, China, Japan, we should make headway. Soon, and I mean soon, getting to space might be easier than getting to Borno state. Start saving!