Terraforming Mars could be achieved with silica areogel shields

The Martian climate could perhaps be made livable by processes that make its atmosphere more similar to that of the Earth. We are talking about the so-called “terraformation,” a process that was actually taken into consideration only in science fiction.

A new study, conducted by researchers from the University of Harvard, the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the University of Edinburgh, gives new hope to the possibility that such a process can actually be implemented. According to the researchers, instead of changing the climate and environmental conditions of the entire planet, a terraforming process could be carried out on a local or regional level.

Circumscribed regions of the surface of the red planet, according to the researchers, could in fact be made habitable with the use of a special material, the silica airgel. One of the effects that this material seems to produce is similar to what we have on Earth in relation to the climate: the greenhouse effect. This material is one of the most insulating ones ever created. It is also 97% porous, which allows a good part of the light not to cross it. Already today it is used in various technological applications such as those implemented for the Mars rovers built by NASA.

Through the use of a screen of silica areogels with a thickness of 2-3 cm, it could be possible to carry out photosynthesis by blocking the dangerous ultraviolet radiation and making sure that the temperatures inside these “greenhouses” can be lowered until the water can become liquid. In essence, only the heat of the sun and no other energy source would be exploited: these are passive materials that do not even require too much maintenance.

According to Robin Wordsworth, a researcher at the John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Harvard and one of the authors of the study, it is a “regional” approach that could make Mars habitable.

Furthermore, such a method would need materials and technologies that we already possess.

In this way, small and circumscribed “islands” could be created, something that could then make the whole planet or a large part of it habitable in a controlled and scalable way.