An international group of scientists published in early November a study on the arXiv website in which they propose a revolutionary plan to create a artificial magnetic field on Mars that is compatible with human life.
This would be one of the key steps in the so-called “terraforming”Of Mars, a process that consists of providing the red planet with the physical characteristics that allow the development of life on Earth so that, eventually, part of our civilization will settle in that corner of the solar system.
Although Mars is the best candidate for this plan thanks to its similarities to our planet, it is still a long way from being inhabited by human settlers. One of its main problems is that it lacks a strong enough magnetic field to protect it from the solar wind and ionizing particles.
Earth’s magnetosphere deflects most high energy charged particles and it prevents them from reaching the surface, but on Mars that shield is much weaker. In fact, millions of years ago Mars had a thick, water-rich atmosphere, but this was gradually depleted due to the lack of a magnetic field.
However, the authors of the new study suggest that it is possible to create an artificial magnetosphere and that only a strong flow of charged particles is needed, either within or around Mars. The first option is not very feasible for the red planet, since its core is smaller and cooler than on Earth, where the convection of iron alloys generates our geomagnetic field. But the researchers say that, in theory, we could create a ring of charged particles around Mars.
This would be accomplished with the help of Phobos, the larger of the two Martian moons. Phobos orbits Mars at such a close distance that it makes a complete trip around it every 8 hours.
Therefore, the team proposes ionize particles from the surface of Phobos and then accelerate them so that they generate a torus of plasma throughout their orbit, which would create a strong enough magnetic field around Mars.
Scientists acknowledge that this would require massive resources, with the absolute minimum necessary energy estimated at 10¹⁷ joules, equivalent to almost all the energy consumption of humans on Earth in 2020.
This unusual plan has the support of such important personalities as James Lauer Green, NASA’s chief scientist and one of the authors of the study.