In science fiction, humans often ‘terraform’ planets – to give them an Earth-like atmosphere so humans can move in, minus the space suits.
The idea came a little closer to reality this week, as a NASA chief discussed the idea of using a ‘magnetic shield’ to restore the atmosphere to Mars.
The idea was raised as part of the Planetary Science Vision 2050 Workshop – discussing space projects which could happen by the year 2050.
Jim Green, NASA’s Planetary Science Division Director, suggested that the atmosphere of Mars could be slowly restored by placing a magnetic shield in a stable orbit between Mars and the Sun.
Mars once had an atmosphere, but it was stripped away long ago by high-energy particles from the Sun – known as solar wind.
The shield would be a large dipole – an electrical circuit which would generate a large artificial magnetic field.
Green says that by shielding Mars from the solar winds, the Red Planet could slowly restore its atmosphere – as carbon dioxide evaporates from the poles.
Green says that eventually, oceans of water might even return, saying, ‘Perhaps one-seventh of the ancient ocean could return to Mars.’