Scientists find ways to make Mars more habitable through Silica aerogel

Researchers have long worked on the idea of making the Martian climate livable for humans. One of the first scientists, Carl Sagan proposed the concept of terraforming, vaporizing the ice caps of the northern pole. This novel innovation thus paved way for future scientists and experts to explore more on the theme of terraforming.

One of the crucial questions that leaped out of the unprecedented research study was: if there were enough greenhouse gases and water on Mars to increase its atmospheric pressure equivalent to the levels of the Earth.

On the basis of a research study conducted by NASA and scientists from the University of Boulder, Colorado and Northern Arizona, scientists found that by processing sources available on the Mars, its atmospheric pressure could be increased to about 7 percent in comparison to Earth’s, which however was way too insufficient to make the planet habitable.  Thus the idea of terraforming the planet also seemed impossible.

However recent study conducted by researchers from the Harvard University and University of Edinburgh have taken a more regional approach to the whole concept, rather than the idea of changing the entire planet.

According to their theory, regions of Martian surface could be made more habitable by using the material silica aerogel, the material being an equivalent to Earth’s atmospheric greenhouse effect. With regards to the modelling experiment conducted by researchers, they could also prove that a two- to three centimeter thick shield of silica aerogel was capable in transmitting visible light for the process of photosynthesis. Additionally, it could restrict dangerous ultraviolet radiation and increase temperatures below the surfaces permanently and above the melting point of water, without an internal heat source.

As quoted by Robin Wordsworth, Assistant Professor at Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, this kind of regional approach was ‘more achievable’ than the previous research idea in the field of making Mars habitable.

The research paper was published in the Journal Nature Astronomy and the study used inspirations from past recorded phenomenon that occurred on Mars.

The study also brings the fact to light that polar ice caps on Mars are a combination of water ice and frozen CO2, unlike Earth’s polar ice caps which are made only from frozen water. Through frozen CO2 sunlight can penetrate and also trap heat. Moreover, experts add that in the summer, solid-state greenhouse effect can create pockets of warming beneath ice.

Silica aerogels which are 97 percent porous, allow light to move through it, but also interconnects nanolayers of silicon dioxide infrared radiation and slows conduction of heat. “Silica aerogel is a promising material because its effect is passive,” according to a research source. “It wouldn’t require large amounts of energy or maintenance of moving parts to keep an area warm over long periods of time.”

Through intensive experiments, researchers created an artificial Martian surface and demonstrated a thin layer of the material, which proved that the average temperature could be increased on Mars, similar to the ones on Earth.

“Spread across a large enough area, you wouldn’t need any other technology or physics, you would just need a layer of this stuff on the surface and underneath you would have permanent liquid water,” said Wordsworth.

Silica aerogel could also be used in order to build habitation domes or even self-contained biospheres on Mars, experts confirm.