Aug 25, 2019 I Paul Seaburn

Forget the Nuclear Smoke — Now Elon Musk Wants to Terraform Mars With Mirrors

One thing you can say about Elon Musk – he’s always thinking. (OK, there’s a lot of things you can say about Elon Musk, but we don’t have that kind of bandwidth.) Take, for example, his ideas about terraforming Mars, which came from his idea that people living inside of artificial environment enclosures on the planet might not do too well physically and mentally (think Biosphere 2), which came from his idea of colonizing Mars, which … you get the idea – Elon is always thinking. How could humans live on Mars without airtight habitats? By turning the planet into a junior Earth, and the best way to do that is by creating an ultra-fast evolution from barren dirt to bountiful rainforests … or at least enough food and atmosphere to live, work and survive outside. And his original idea for doing that was …

atomic bomb 1011738 640

This goes back to 2015 when Musk first said his solution for raising the temperature on Mars to make it habitable for humans would be to “Drop thermonuclear weapons over the poles.” Once the smoke cleared, Musk figured enough trapped CO2 would be released from Martian soil to create an instant Earth atmosphere and kickstart an evolution. Scientists – both environmental and rocket – as well as ethicists and other humans have been objecting to this idea ever since, but busy idea-man Elon has just gotten around to coming up with a new one.

“Might make sense to have thousands of solar reflector satellites 🛰 to warm Mars vs artificial suns (tbd)”

That’s a mighty big ‘to be determined’ – starting with how does one get thousands of solar reflector satellites into Martian orbit – but it’s less radioactive (both literally and figuratively) so it has generated some consideration and reflection. Not because Elon said it but because Rigel Woida, an optical sciences and engineering student at the University of Arizona, wrote an award-winning paper in 2007 on using large aperture, lightweight orbital mirrors for terraforming targeted areas on the Martian surface. He proposed orbiting a 1.5-km array of 150 segmented, 150-meter-diameter mylar balloons that would collect sunlight and beam it to a square-kilometer area of the Martian surface.

"I adjusted the aperture so the reflector would heat a square-kilometer of Mars' surface to roughly Tucson daytime illumination and temperatures. This would have immediate benefits for the astronauts. It would increase the light level, solar panel energy collection and bring the temperature of that part of the planet up to Earth's. Astronauts wouldn't have to work in freezing temperatures or spend energy thawing frozen water - water they need for manufacturing fuel to return to Earth, as well as water needed for consumption. Eventually, using techniques like these, humans might cultivate plants on Mars."

morocco 123963 640
It's a start

That's EXACTLY what I mean, Elon is probably thinking but certainly not saying for obvious reasons. Woida received a $9,000 NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Student Fellows Prize for his idea. Musk received … well, that’s “tbd.” This idea seems more scientifically possible and certainly less radioactively controversial. But, is it ethical to terraform any other world to turn it into a junior Earth for the purpose of Earthlings colonizing it? Remember what happened on Earth so many times when settlers brought their own plants and animals to new lands? Are they the invasive species … or is it the humans who thought it was a good idea?

That answer requires more than just thought, doesn’t it? Elon?

Paul Seaburn
Paul Seaburn is the editor at Mysterious Universe and its most prolific writer. He’s written for TV shows such as "The Tonight Show", "Politically Incorrect" and an award-winning children’s program. He's been published in “The New York Times" and "Huffington Post” and has co-authored numerous collections of trivia, puzzles and humor. His “What in the World!” podcast is a fun look at the latest weird and paranormal news, strange sports stories and odd trivia. Paul likes to add a bit of humor to each MU post he crafts. After all, the mysterious doesn't always have to be serious.

Join MU Plus+ and get exclusive shows and extensions & much more! Subscribe Today!