Attempts to create a human colony on Mars are complicated by the fact that the planet is largely inhabitable, but thankfully SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has come up with a creative way to solve that minor issues – nuke the Red Planet.
According to CNET and USA Today, Musk was appearing on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” Wednesday night when he called Mars “a fixer-upper of a planet” and suggested that the fastest way to make it a better place to live would be to “drop thermonuclear weapons over the poles,” thus making the planet warmer in the cosmic blink of an eye.
That prompted Colbert to suggest that Musk was secretly a supervillain, drawing comparisons to Superman’s arch-nemesis Lex Luthor. Of course, Musk also pointed out that there was a slower, safer and less supervillain-y way to accomplish the mission as well – releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, which would has a similar affect as global warming on Earth.
Could nuke-based terraforming actually work?
The Los Angeles Times asked University of Colorado atmospheric and ocean sciences professor Brian Toon about the possibility of using nukes to warm on Mars, and he responded that while it “seems possible to make it Earthlike,” that blowing up bombs was not really a good idea.
Likewise, Penn State University Earth System Science Center director Michael Mann said to US News that using nuclear weapons in this way could cause a whole new set of problems, including the fact that the explosions may “generate so much dust and particles that they block out a significant portion of the incoming sunlight, cooling down the planet.”
“To begin with, there are the attendant dangers of bolting nuclear devices to rockets and hoping they don’t crash and burn here on Earth,” Dr. Seth Shostak from the SETI Institute told the Huffington Post via email. “There’s also the damage you might do to still-unknown life on the Red Planet. And, of course, there would likely be political fallout of the non-radioactive kind.”
Dr. Shostak added that the bombs could fail to generate the desired effect, and that Mars could just “revert to its former, inhospitable self,” and Arizona State University theoretical physicist Dr. Lawrence Krauss dismissed the entire concept of quick-and-easy terraforming on Mars as a “wildly speculative” idea and called it “silly to expect Mars to become easily habitable.”
Image credit: Thinkstock