concept of terraformed mars with oceans
March 6, 2017

Man-made magnetic shield could make Mars habitable, says NASA

One of the problems standing in the way of Mars habitation has been addressed in an intriguing way by NASA's Planetary Science Division Director Jim Green, who proposed an artificial magnetic shield to protect the Red Planet from high-energy solar particles.

Mars is thought to have been temperate and to have had surface water around 3.5 billion years ago, but 90 percent of its atmosphere has been destroyed by solar particles during the planet's lifetime.

solar storm stripping mars of atmosphere

An artist's interpretation of the sun stripping Mars of its atmosphere. (Credit: NASA/GSFC)

In a talk entitled, "A Future Mars Environment for Science and Exploration" given at the recent Planetary Science Vision 2050 Workshop in Washington DC, Green discussed a magnetic shield which would be launched into stable orbit between Mars and the sun at a position known as the Mars L1 Lagrange Point. It would comprise of a powerful closed electric circuit, called a dipole, that would generate the magnetic field.

This magnetic field would, in theory, provide enough protection to allow Mars to rebuild its atmosphere.

Restoring an ancient ocean

The process would be slow, but simulation models suggest that with the assistance of the shield Mars could achieve half of Earth's atmospheric pressure in a matter of years.

Frozen CO2 at Mars's polar ice caps, protected from solar winds, could turn from solid to gas. Mars's thin atmosphere would be filled by the greenhouse effect, with the planet heating up around the equator.

This would result in vast stores of ice under the poles melting, with the obvious effect of liquid water flooding the environment.

"Perhaps one-seventh of the ancient ocean could return to Mars," said Green.

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Image credit: Ittiz/Wikimedia Commons