Terraforming Mars: The Role of Pioneer Organisms and the Possibility of a Biologically Driven Nitrogen Cycle

Paulus Laanen
Onderzoek naar de mogelijkheid voor het terravormen van Mars en de rol die pionier organismen kunnen spelen in dit proces.

Mars, een tweede thuis?

De toenemende spanningen in het geopolitiek landschap en de steeds zichtbaardere gevolgen van klimaatsverandering, laten zien dat ons leven op aarde eigenlijk erg fragiel is en dat er een oplossing moet worden gevonden.

Met de huidige renaissance rond bemande Mars missies, de toenemende discussies rond Mars kolonisatie en het toenemend advies om de mens een multi-planetaire soort te maken, zal Mars in de toekomst waarschijnlijk een tweede thuisplaneet worden voor de mensheid. De grote vraag is dan, hoe zullen mensen op Mars leven? In dit onderzoek hebben we de optie van terravormen bekeken.

De transitie van Mars doorheen het terravorming proces.Terravormen?

In het proces van terravormen wordt de planeet zodanig aangepast zodat deze leven kan ondersteunen, met als ultieme doel om de planeet leefbaar te maken voor mensen.

Op het moment is Mars zo koud (gemiddeld -63°C) dat op de poolkappen bevroren CO2 ligt, dit zijn restanten van de vroegere atmosfeer toen Mars een warmer klimaat had. Als gevolg is de huidige atmosfeer van Mars zo ijl dat er vrijwel geen broeikaseffect is en dat de atmosferische druk zo laag is dat vloeibaar water spontaan zou verdampen. Ook bestaat de atmosfeer van Mars voornamelijk uit CO2 en deze is dus nog niet compatibel met onze vereisten. Het gebrek van een dikke atmosfeer (en het gebrek van een sterk magnetisch veld) zorgt er ook voor dat veel straling het Mars oppervlak bereikt.

Om Mars te terravormen moeten daarom de temperatuur en atmosferische druk worden verhoogd. Ook zal de samenstelling van de atmosfeer zodanig moeten worden aangepast. Daarnaast zal de schadelijke straling op Mars moet worden verminderd.

In de afgelopen tientallen jaren zijn er echter al een aantal technieken beschreven, die dit theoretisch gezien voor elkaar zouden kunnen krijgen. Ironisch genoeg speelt het broeikaseffect een grote rol in elk van deze technieken.

 

Het eerste idee zou zijn om de zogenaamde albedo, of reflectie van het zonlicht, van de poolkappen te verlagen. Dit kan je vergelijken met het verschil tussen in een wit t-shirt in de zon zitten of een zwart t-shirt. Doordat een donker oppervlak meer zonlicht zal opnemen en zo warmer wordt zal de temperatuur van de poolkappen stijgen, waardoor de CO2 verdampt en zo voor een sterker broeikaseffect zorgt, alsook voor een dikkere atmosfeer die meer bescherming biedt tegen straling. Hetzelfde kan bereikt worden door grote spiegels in een baan rond Mars te brengen die meer zonlicht naar het oppervlak kunnen reflecteren waardoor de temperatuur ook zal stijgen en voor CO2 verdamping zal zorgen. Daarnaast hebben we ook nog de optie om sterke broeikasgassen (die we op aarde hebben verboden) in de atmosfeer van Mars te brengen. Een combinatie van deze technieken zou Mars theoretisch gezien kunnen opwarmen tot temperaturen boven de 0°C en zou voor een atmosferische druk kunnen zorgen van rond de 400 mbar, wat vergelijkbaar is met de druk op 7000 meter hoogte hier op aarde. Ook al zijn dit nog niet echt optimale condities voor ons mensen (aangezien er nog nauwelijks zuurstof is), andere levensvormen zullen hier al kunnen floreren en dit is precies wat we gaan gebruiken om de planeet leefbaar te maken voor de mens.

(N2)u leven?

Maar los van deze bovengenoemde vereisten zijn er ook andere eisen voor leven, zoals bijvoorbeeld de aanwezigheid van voldoende stikstof. Stikstof is een van de meest belangrijke elementen voor leven, het maakt deel uit van de meeste biologische producten zoals hormonen, eiwitten, genetisch materiaal etc.

Ook al beschikt Mars over een relatief beperkte hoeveelheid stikstof, blijkt uit onze berekeningen dat er toch voldoende aanwezig is om een kleine biosfeer te kunnen onderhouden. We stellen voor om deze biosfeer (vergelijkbaar met 0.02% van al het leven op aarde) tot een oppervlakte van maximaal 30% van het Mars oppervlak te beperken. Dit omdat er maar voldoende stikstof aanwezig is om een beperkt oppervlak te bemesten. Door het ecosysteem gelokaliseerd te houden, zal er betere interactie zijn en dus zal het stabieler worden. Helaas is er niet genoeg stikstof om de atmosfeer voldoende te verbeteren voor mensen. Daarom zal er waarschijnlijk stikstof moeten worden geïmporteerd om Mars volledig te terravormen.

Ons onderzoek heeft daarnaast een aantal verschillende organismen ontdekt die op aarde in de meest barre omstandigheden kunnen overleven. Deze organismen vormen goeie kandidaten om al eerste Mars te gaan koloniseren nadat de temperatuur en atmosferische druk zijn verhoogd. In deze groep organismen zitten bacteriën, planten en algen die een stikstofcyclus kunnen opzetten op de rode planeet, wat essentieel zal zijn om een ecosysteem te vormen. Daarnaast zijn er bacteriën die toxische stoffen in de grond kunnen afbreken. Ook zullen er verschillende organismen beginnen met het produceren van zuurstof om zo de atmosfeer te verbeteren voor leven. Op deze manier zal biologie ons helpen om met relatief weinig inspanning Mars te terravormen.

Goed! Wanneer beginnen we?

Voordat terravormen kan worden gestart zijn er veel technologische ontwikkelingen nodig. Ook is er een nood aan sterke internationale samenwerking, aangezien het een erg duur proces zal zijn. Ook zal zo een project voor extra internationale spanningen zorgen. Daarom zal er een samenwerking in de vorm van een wereld ruimtevaart agentschap nodig zijn.

Afgezien van de technologische en wetenschappelijke aspecten, zijn er ook vereisten op het gebied van legaliteit en ethiek. Er zullen wetten moeten worden geschreven rond terravormen, zodat dit proces ordelijk kan worden uitgevoerd. Ook zal de vraag gesteld moeten worden of de mensheid dit zomaar mag/moet doen.

Hierdoor schatten wij dat we binnen 100 jaar de eerste stappen kunnen zetten, hierna zal het nog een 100 jaar duren voordat Mars voldoende is opgewarmd zodat het eerste leven op de planeet kan worden vrijgelaten. Daarom schatten we dat in 200 jaar tijd, de eerste organismen Mars kunnen koloniseren. Het zal echter waarschijnlijk nog vele duizenden jaren duren voordat mensen er vrij kunnen leven.

Desalniettemin is terravormen geen alles-of-niets proces en elke stap zal de planeet leefbaarder maken. Daarom is het niet ondenkbaar dat Mars al gekoloniseerd zal zijn lang voordat het terravormen klaar is.

Illustratie geleverd door Ballard, D. (2006) Mars TransitionV [Online] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Ittiz#/media/File:MarsTransitionV.jpg [bezocht op 30 september 2017]

 

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Universiteit of Hogeschool
Master of Space Studies
Publicatiejaar
2017
Promotor
Professor Christoffel Waelkens & professor Patrick Van Oostveldt
Kernwoorden