Category Archives: water on Mars

Curiosity and Terraforming Mars

We are human and we have a tendency to anthropomorphize everything. So, that little robot-science lab on wheels that is wandering around Mars makes it almost seem as if we have a person on Mars. Curiosity is cute; it has one of the same eyes as Wall-E who had a delightful personality. By association we also suppose that Curiosity is equally delightful. Wall-E, of course, skewed male, while Curiosity has been presented, so far, as androgynous, making it difficult to choose an anthropomorphic pronoun. Whatever sex is assigned to Curiosity, I have decided to think of her as a “she” because I can. As I go through my day I sometimes remember that our little Curiosity is traveling ever so slowly over the landscape on MARS! She is constantly taking photos that she sends back to earth and she is sampling the materials on the surface of Mars to send us data about the chemistry of the Martian surface. And like Wall-E’s girlfriend Eva, she is looking for any signs that there ever was or that there is now life on Mars.

Curiosity’s newest photos show that water, good old H2O once ran over the Martian landscape although she has not found any actual water. Photos show configurations that we know from long observation represent streambeds or trails carved by running water. There are rocks in the photos that show that the sedimentary action of water has acted on the Martian landscape at some time. This is all very encouraging to scientist who have long been discussing terraforming Mars.

Scientists believe that we could turn the thin Martian atmosphere thicker by purposely doing things we have done by accident which have thickened our earth atmosphere, or in other words by emitting greenhouse gases into the Martian atmosphere. Once a thick atmosphere was created we would use mirrors in orbit around the planet to melt the poles so they could release their water to fill the depressions on the Mars surface. We would then find a water cycle of evaporation and precipitation developing, after which pioneering life forms like mosses could be introduced and encouraged to cover the surface of Mars. You can see a demo of terraforming in this youtube video.

The ideas for terraforming Mars have been around for several decades now. Kim Stanley Robinson wrote a fictional Mars trilogy to help us picture the possibilities. Red Mars, Blue Mars and Green Mars, the three volumes in the trilogy create a set of Martian pioneer people who take us through the three stages of terraforming and the human drama that might accompany such an endeavor.

We may succeed in terraforming Mars or not but it always helps humans to strive for something beyond, something that stretches our minds and our talents and gives us a sense of some control over a massive and possibly indifferent universe.