Mars is in the spotlight now, as both SpaceX and NASA are preparing their long range plans to send humans to the Red Planet. But Mars is an inhospitable environment, especially because of its tenuous and poisonous atmosphere of carbon dioxide.
Did Mars have a better atmosphere in the past? How did it get destroyed, and what can we do to replenish it to make the planet more habitable in the future?
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If you were to travel to the surface of Mars right now, without a proper spacesuit, your life would become immediately, uh, unpleasant. With a dramatically lower atmospheric pressure, all the air in your lungs would come rushing out. And without the oxygen in your blood stream, you’d pass out within seconds, and asphyxiate within a couple of minutes. Mars, sucks.
And the biggest reason is that Mars is so hostile is because of its terrible atmosphere. Here on Earth, you’re experiencing a column of air, pressing down on you, enabling all that breathing that you seem to like to do.
The atmosphere on Mars, on the other hand, is only 1% the pressure we have here on Earth. Furthermore, it’s made almost entirely of carbon dioxide, which I’m sure you know is poisonous to breathe.
The lack of a thick atmosphere means that Mars is cold, so cold all the water on the planet is locked up in eternal polar ice caps. So cold that carbon dioxide freezes out of the atmosphere and falls as snow in the north pole. Just in case you weren’t aware, temperatures need to be -78.5 degrees C for carbon dioxide to freeze.
Was Mars always this way? What changed to make the planet so terrible, and what could we do to bring it back?