Terraforming Mars? Forget It, Says Flagstaff Scientist

Aug 2, 2018

A new study coauthored by a Flagstaff scientist suggests it’s not possible to terraform Mars with current technology to make it hospitable for people. It all comes down to the carbon dioxide. KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny reports.

An artist's depiction of Mars exploration
Credit NASA/Pat Rawlings

Mars is too cold and its atmosphere too thin to sustain human life. Hypothetically, the planet could be “terraformed” or made more like Earth by releasing large quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Christopher Edwards of Northern Arizona University wanted to see if this scenario could work. He mapped out all the CO2 available on Mars, locked away in soil, rock, and the polar ice caps. Edwards found even if all this CO2 could be released into the air, there isn’t enough of it to make a difference.

"I think it means that we aren’t planning on going there and turning it into our own planet," Edwards says. "We’re going to be visitors and we’re going to have habitats and spacesuits, just like we explored the Moon. I don’t think that makes it any less grand. I think that actually is sort of amazing, still."

Edwards relied on two decades of data from NASA spacecraft for this study. It appeared this week in the journal Nature Astronomy.