THE PHYSICAL MARS
The physical conditions on Mars are much different than those on Earth. The skies can turn the prettiest pink from the windstorms kicking red dust into the atmosphere (See Appendices B, D, E). There has been no liquid water ever detected on the surface but the moisture in the atmosphere could create a medium-sized iceberg. The average temperature is about –60ºC (See Appendix C). It rarely rains but when it does, the poles receive carbon dioxide rainfalls. Carbon dioxide is toxic to humans in large amounts and the atmosphere is composed of approximately 95.3% CO2. Smooth plains from volcanic eruptions and erosion cover the northern hemisphere, while the southern hemisphere is pockmarked with meteor craters (National Geographic 2001).
To better understand the conditions of Mars, Earth must first be considered. The Earth’s atmosphere is composed of 77% nitrogen, 22% oxygen and less than 1% carbon dioxide. The planet has an average temperature just above freezing with an atmospheric pressure of about one thousand millibars at sea level. Therefore, Earth is the perfect model for conditions for humans. Mars is not so generous. Margarita Marinova, a research assistant at MIT, has an idea that would increase the temperatures on Mars to that of Canada’s. By placing one hundred factories that release PFC’s or super-greenhouse gases, the temperature will increase within 60 years. With the current average temperature of –60ºC, it would only take a little while to increase the temperature enough for lichen and bacteria to thrive. As sublimation of the southern ice cap begins, CO2 levels will thicken and the temperature will rise. It was believed that the southern ice cap was made of mostly CO2, but a recent discovery led to the realization that it is mostly water. Originally, with the melting of the southern ice cap, the temperature would rise 70ºC but that has now changed. Terraforming will actually prove to be easier. Once the temperatures rises to above freezing, the northern ice cap will melt, releasing water vapour and leading the way to future oceans.
The air pressure of Mars is actually only 0.7% that of Earth’s. The Mars Pathfinder discovered random variations in air pressure causing the Mars equivalent of “Dust Devils” or huge windstorms. The theory behind these occurrences is that cold air heated in the morning rises in whirlwind-like patterns different than those on Earth, causing dust to be kicked into the atmosphere. The minimum air pressure recorded by Pathfinder was 6.7 millibars. Dr. Christopher McKay, a NASA Ames researcher, believes that the water vapour released from the northern ice cap would raise atmospheric pressure to reach an upper-Himalayan level. This would be good enough for oxygen masks on the surface for short periods of time. As the atmosphere thickened and the planet warmed, the atmospheric pressure would also rise.
Since Mars is smaller, a higher atmospheric pressure than the Earth’s would be needed although the Earth’s pressure is about 600 millibars more than is actually required. The largest problem with Mars is the carbon dioxide levels.