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Scientists Want to Make Mars Conducive to Life. With an Artificial Magnetosphere?

By using its largest moon to scatter a 'plasma torus.'

Scientists Want to Make Mars Conducive to Life. With an Artificial Magnetosphere?
An exoplanet illustration. luchschen/iStock

Mars has been considered a fixer-upper of a planet for some time now.

One of the greatest hurdles faced by would-be terraformers of the red planet is its weak magnetic field, which would leave any potential inhabitants exposed to harmful solar radiation.

Now, scientists have proposed a new ambitious method for giving Mars an artificial magnetosphere to make it livable for future humans, a Universe Today report explains. By harnessing the power of one of Mars' moons, they believe they can create an artificial magnetosphere around the red planet.

Phobos holds the key

Though Mars has long been considered an ideal candidate as a planet B, a location in our Solar System that could be terraformed so that it allows for human habitation, its weak magnetic field doesn't provide the same protection from high-energy charged particles that we have here on Earth.

NASA's Mars Perseverance rover recently confirmed without a shadow of a doubt that the red planet was once home to lakes and rivers. It's the lack of a strong magnetic field on the planet that led to its once-existing atmosphere being gradually stripped away by solar winds. According to a new study from researchers at Cornell University, this problem could be addressed by producing an artificial magnetic field on Mars.

The red planet's core is smaller and cooler than Earth's, meaning it doesn't have the same conditions that produce a dynamo effect at our planet's center, so the researchers turned to the planet's exterior. To be precise, they want to use its largest moon, Phobos, to create an artificial magnetic field via what is known as a plasma torus.

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New study joins a long list of Mars terraforming proposals

The idea for making Mars and other planets habitable via terraforming — or transforming their atmosphere — has been around since the mid-20th century. A long list of proponents for terraforming Mars includes ideas such as using thermonuclear weapons for warming the planet or deploying orbital mirrors to warm the poles. But, the new proposal from Cornell University researchers suggests using Mars' moon Phobos to create a strong flow of charged particles around the planet.

Phobos, the larger of Mars' two moons is so close to the planet that it completes its orbit in eight hours. With this in mind, the Cornell University scientists hatched a plan to turn the moon into a natural deployment device. They proposed ionizing particles off the surface of Phobos and accelerating them to produce a plasma torus — a ring-shaped cloud of particles — along Phobos's orbital trajectory. Doing this, the researchers say, would produce a magnetic field strong enough to protect Mars from solar winds.

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The authors do point out that they have barely tackled the technological and logistical side of their proposal and that they are very much in the idea phase. The race to get to Mars is heating up — SpaceX recently announced its Mars-bound Starship will make its first orbital flight in January — but, with humans expected to reach the red planet sometime after 2030, there's still plenty of time left to go over the drawing board.

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