All in Favor of Nuking Mars?

Humans have dreamed of visiting Mars for decades. And with the growth of modern technology, we may reach that goal soon.

That is, unless we would rather nuke the planet.

Photo of Mars

Nuclear weapons are explosive devices designed to release energy created from nuclear reactions such as fission, fusion, or a combination of both.

The damage from a single bomb is enough to destroy an entire city, killing thousands of people. In August of 1945, the Japanese city, Hiroshima, was bombed by the United States. It’s known as the first city targeted by a nuclear weapon.

Photo of the Hiroshima bombing aftermath

High levels of radioactivity are emitted from the bombs, causing the surrounding area to be toxic to most forms of life. So why would we launch nuclear weapons on a deserted planet?

The answer involves terraforming.

Mars’ Current State

Scientists believe that billions of years ago, Mars was wet. It provided bodies of water, a thick atmosphere, and the potential to carry life. However, that all changed once the planet lost its magnetic field.

Without its magnetic field to protect the surface, the atmosphere steadily shrunk, and the water disappeared into space. As a result, this formed the red, icy planet we recognize today.

Mars in its early years
Mars in its early years

Compared to Earth, Mars’ environment is rather harsh. The atmosphere is currently less than 1% of Earth’s.

On average, the temperature is -81° F (-62.8° C) and can reach a low of -200° F (-128.9° C), even with the planet’s atmosphere being 95% carbon dioxide.

Shouldn’t Mars be hot?

Yes, but no. Carbon dioxide is a primary greenhouse gas. The gas traps heat and radiates it onto the ocean and crust. Hence why we have global warming on Earth. Though, because of Mars’ notably thin atmosphere and absence of water, that doesn’t happen.

Now there may be a solution to make Mars suitable for life.

How It Would Work

Terraforming is the process of modifying a planet to make it fit for humans. Or, in this instance, terraforming Mars with nuclear weapons.

Elon Musk initially brought up the idea at an interview. With his approach, the bombs would drop over the planet’s polar ice caps and vaporize the trapped water, releasing CO² and water vapor into the atmosphere. That would lead to a greenhouse effect and a continuous rise in the planet's temperature.

In theory, Mars would eventually end up similar to Earth. Rich in water, a thick atmosphere, and a habitable temperature.

While this does sound exciting, our current technology isn’t enough to terraform Mars in a short amount of time. The entire process would take decades, maybe centuries. But only if it works, anyway.

Inherent Problems

The nukes themselves cause an issue. Over 10,000 nukes are needed to carry out the plan. The world’s nuclear weapon supply stands at around 13,300, most of them belonging to the U.S and Russia. Gathering nearly 75% of the planet’s storage won’t be a simple feat.

Mars has a high level of radiation because it has no protection against the sun. So launching radioactive nukes to the only makes it more toxic to life, further delaying humans from ever exploring the planet.

According to NASA, “‘Although Mars has significant quantities of water ice that could be used to create water vapor, previous analyses show that water cannot provide significant warming by itself; temperatures do not allow enough water to persist as vapor without first having significant warming by CO², according to the team.”

Essentially, without an abundance of CO² in the atmosphere before the bombing, the greenhouse effect will not take place. And if we do succeed, we still need the planet’s magnetic field. Without it, our efforts would go to waste, and Mars would go back to being a red, dry planet.

Nuclear weapons only focus on heating the planet, but they cannot solve a series of problems. For example, only 0.13% of the atmosphere contains oxygen, there’s too much radiation, and solar winds may strip away the atmosphere — again.

So should we nuke Mars? It would be best not to. A variety of methods would be needed to successfully turn Mars into an Earth-like planet. Nuclear weapons would only be able to solve one issue.

So what could be done to terraform Mars — if at all?

With our current technology, not much. As advanced as it may seem, our tech isn’t enough to completely transform an entire planet. As stated by Nasa, “Our results suggest that there is not enough CO² remaining on Mars to provide significant greenhouse warming were the gas to be put into the atmosphere; in addition, most of the CO² gas is not accessible and could not be readily mobilized. As a result, terraforming Mars is not possible using present-day technology.”

Without transportable CO² and a magnetic field, it’s going to take time for us to terraform Mars. While the research behind terraforming will continue to grow, it will take some time before we can test out this theory. So maybe we should focus on saving our home planet before creating a new one.

Thanks for reading! You can contact me at sophiat.bashir@gmail.com or on my LinkedIn. I also send out monthly newsletters; subscribe here.

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