After announcing his plans to put a million people on Mars by 2100 to save humanity from extinction, the Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk now wants to terraform the Red Planet by dropping thermonuclear bombs on the ice at its poles.
On The Late Show, when host Stephen Colbert asked Musk why do we want to go to Mars when it is inhabitable and asked him to explain how he is going to make Mars livable, the tech billionaire said, “[Mars] is a fixer-upper of a planet, so first you’re going to have to live in transparent domes, but eventually you can transform Mars into an Earth-like planet. You’d warm it up. There’s the fast way and there’s the slow way. The fast way is to drop thermonuclear weapons over the poles. The slow way is to use greenhouse gases. “
Btw, not saying we *should* nuke Mars — just layin’ out a few options …
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) September 12, 2015
This prompted Colbert to label Musk a “supervillain”. But is Musk’s plan crazy?
Dropping thermonuclear bombs would release huge amounts of radiation, melt and release considerable amounts of CO2, and eventually thicken the Martian atmosphere. If it becomes thick enough, it might be possible for water to then exist as a liquid on the surface.
Is the idea feasible?
“He has a point. If we wanted to terraform Mars quickly, the way to do it would be to evaporate those ice packs, but I don’t think we can turn enough ice into gas using nuclear weapons. It would take 10 centuries. The biggest nuclear weapon ever made is the Tsar Bomba which had a yield of 25 megatons of TNT, and that would still not be enough. You’d need a lot of nuclear weapons [almost the entire nuclear arsenal of the US and Russia]. They cause radiation and it’s not just the immediate effects of that radiation. It’s embedded into the target materials, which generate lots of nasty isotopes which are really quite harmful to human beings,” Dr Matthew Genge a planetary scientist at Imperial College told IBTimes UK.
“It seems possible to make it Earthlike, but there’s a lot of barriers to overcome. Blowing up bombs is not a good one,” University of Colorado atmospheric and ocean sciences professor Brian Toon told the Los Angeles Times.
“Instead of warming Mars, the explosions could cause nuclear winter, wherein you generate so much dust and particles that they literally block out a significant portion of the incoming sunlight, cooling down the planet,” Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State University, told US News.
Musk, who told Colbert that he expects to transport NASA astronauts to the space station in two years, didn’t address how he’d get the bombs from Earth to Mars.
His slow way to warm the planet is already causing global warming on Earth. While you could try to use CO2 to warm up the atmosphere, the amount already existing on Mars is poisonous, making the environment potentially plant-friendly, but not suitable for animals.
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