back to article Can't wait to get to Mars on a SpaceX ship? It's a cold, dead rock – boffins

SpaceX today parked Elon Musk's Tesla Roadster in Earth's orbit, using a Falcon Heavy lifter, with a rocket strapped to the flash motor to take it on to Mars. The billionaire also wants to set up a base on the Red Planet, and use his rocketry technology to ferry brave folks over there to face certain death, er, glory as early …

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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Start of a retraction

    to the recent claim that large ice cliffs were found?

    The biggest problem with a Mars colony is not the engineering required to support human habitation, but the type of person who would want to go to Mars in the first place. I am sure that they will kill each other on the journey, or die due to refusing to cooperate with someone who irritated them.

    1. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: Start of a retraction

      "the type of person who would want to go to Mars in the first place"

      That would be 'pioneers", not unlike the migration west in 19th century USA.

      1. David Roberts Silver badge
        Trollface

        Re: Start of a retraction - pioneers

        Some of them ended up eating each other, IIRC.

        1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

          Re: Start of a retraction - pioneers

          Some of them ended up eating each other, IIRC.

          They stopped for the occasional Donner kebab.

          (And to follow up on a different post: Mars as a penal colony makes no sense. It's just an expensive way to kill someone. It'd be far more sensible, and no more inhumane, to shuffle them off to Antarctica. Hell, drop 'em in Siberia or the Sahara and give them a chance.)

    2. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Re: Start of a retraction

      The biggest problem with a Mars colony is that the likely scientific and potential monetary value is barely hovering above zero.

      Compared to that, a colony on one of the Jupiter or Saturn moons has significant scientific and monetary potential. There is stuff to explore and more importantly there is stuff to mine - both for the purposes of supporting the colony and for the purposes of shipping back to Earth as raw or refined materials.

      Once money is involved, there will be people doing it. That is pretty much guaranteed.

      Compared to that Mars has only one possible application - a penal colony. Not today of course. But sometimes in the near future when our survival gear improves sufficiently. (*)

      (*)If you do the math how much does it cost to keep someone like Peter Sutcliffe for 30 years in a HMG all expenses paid hotel, it is cheaper to load that person on a one way ticket to Mars and give him "fend for yourself" survival gear (after that we wash our hands).

      1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

        Re: Start of a retraction

        There is stuff to explore and more importantly there is stuff to mine

        Forgot one more. Energy in abundance.

        The biggest issue with colonising Mars (let's put the terraforming aside until it is colonised) is that the energy input required for it has to come from elsewhere. It is far from the sun so Solar is barely a trickle. No plate tectonics so no concentration of radionuclides by the same geological processes as on Earth and (most likely) no water for fusion.

        Compared to that, the Jupiter system is the energy junkies dream. The IO flux tube alone is > 2 Terawatts and it is by no means the only energy source in that system. Add to that abundant water and other materials suitable for both energy and reaction mass. Add to that active plate tectonics (and potentially geological processes to produce ore deposits suitable for mining) on 3 out of 4 of its large moons. Add to that the potential of mining Hydrogen and or 3He for fusion from Jupiter itself. Add to that...

        1. littlesmith

          Re: Start of a retraction

          Mining Jupiter will be forbidden because of the Medusae!

      2. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

        Re: Start of a retraction

        monetary potential

        Economic potential.

        Central banks have "monetary potential".

      3. Dr. Ellen
        Go

        Re: Start of a retraction

        The problem with Jupiter's larger moons? First, they have their own gravity wells. Second, they are well within Jupiter's gravity well. Third, they are much further away than Mars. It'd take a lot of delta-V to get whatever you were mining to any Terrestrial point-of-sale. The moon and Mars are less habitable than Antarctica, but we do have bases in Antarctica. And you'd need a lot less delta-V to get to the asteroid belt from these smaller worlds. So have robots doing the grunt work -- but it might be wise to have humans there to repair the robots. Both Mars and the moon seem to have enough water to mine for fuel.

        Besides, there are research opportunities. The far side of the moon has good radio silence, and lots of the time, no light pollution whatever. Mars is further out, so it'd be useful for VLBI and parallax studies. And liveable or not, they have raw materials to support the studies.

  2. Mark 85 Silver badge

    So not life as we know it then. Seems I've heard that before. The boffins paint a nasty picture and just killed a thousand dreams. I wish they were wrong but my gut tells me they're right.

    1. Frumious Bandersnatch Silver badge

      and just killed a thousand dreams

      Maybe you're looking for a more Arthur C Clark (as hinted at in the article) than a H. G. Wells-based psycho-cosmology?

    2. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Devil

      "The boffins paint a nasty picture and just killed a thousand dreams"

      well, there's still the possibility of terraforming, but that would take a LOT of effort with tech we don't have yet.

      The best theories I've heard suggest that Mars lost its magnetic field because of a mostly-solid core. If the core were liquid, mars would have 'van allen' belts too, and its atmosphere would (mostly) still be there.

      Without volcanos you don't replenish your atmosphere. Mars doesn't appear to have active volcanos in any significant amount, not like Earth.

      So: to "fix" Mars, you need to melt its core. How to do that? Oh, I dunno, maybe a few hundred ATOMIC BOMBS or something like that. It is, after all, a planet, and melting its core would require quite a bit of energy.

      Mars has a LOT of evidence of flowing water and thicker atmosphere at some point in its history. Nowadays, it's almost a vacuum as far as atmospheric pressure goes. You'd need some pretty strong pumps to suck that in and make it 15psi for human aspiration (assuming the O2 levels were correct). Pure O2 would have to be at least 3psi, just sayin'.

      Anyway, the 'past life on Mars' stuff has mostly hinged on the idea that at one time in its history Mars was a LOT more Earth-like, and I tend to believe that the science supports this.

      As for terraforming, you'd have to fix the core first. THEN, "borrow" gasses from someplace, and transport it to Mars, plant some, uh, plants, get some algae to grow in bodies of water, and there ya go.

      1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

        well, there's still the possibility of terraforming, but that would take a LOT of effort with tech we don't have yet.

        It is not just tech. It is also presence of key substances like water to start off with, magnetic field, feasibility of protecting the initial stations from solar flares and hard radiation.

        By the time we have the tech to terraform Mars we are likely to have colonised Europa while mining Ganymede and IO (or some permutation of these).

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          By the time we have the tech to terraform Mars

          Fat chance of that. We'll have Greenpeace (or Redpeace?) activists chaining themselves to the rockets to "save Mars".

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            It was a terrible accident

            "As a matter of fact, I did accidentally turn the key, lift the safety cover, and press the launch button all with my bottom as I bent over to pick up a dropped pencil from the floor."

          2. wayward4now
            Trollface

            "activists chaining themselves to the rockets to "save Mars". "

            I doubt they would survive liftoff. -evil grin-

      2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        So: to "fix" Mars, you need to melt its core. How to do that? Oh, I dunno, maybe a few hundred ATOMIC BOMBS or something like that. It is, after all, a planet, and melting its core would require quite a bit of energy.

        Assuming "ATOMIC BOMBS" means thermonuclear ("hydrogen", fission-fusion) weapons, then, yeah, you'd need quite a lot. I don't think "a few hundred" is going to do the job. I'm not sure how far up you can scale a three-stage thermonuclear weapon, but the Tsar Bomba was "only" 50 Mt, and designed to yield around 100 Mt in actual warfare use.

        That's about 418 petajoules per bomb. Let's say you have a round thousand of those, so you have around 20 orders-of-magnitude Joules. The Martian core is estimated to be around 1500 K, compared to ~5700 K for Earth's, so if you want a comparable temperature you need to raise it about 4000 K. The volume of Mars' core is ~ 1e12 cubic meters, and the average density of Mars is ~4000 kg/m^3, and it's mostly iron and nickle. Now, that sucker is hot already, but it's also under a lot of pressure, so I'm going to just use the specific heat of iron at 0C as a handwaving estimate: about 0.5 J/g. We have around 4e18 g of core, assuming my arithmetic is right, so around 2e18 J required to heat it by 1K. For 4000K we need in the neighborhood of 1e22 J, or 1e7 PJ.

        So 24000 Tsar Bombas would just about do it, if you could deliver all that energy directly and evenly to the core. Remember to stand well back and wear your safety goggles.

        Of course, the core of Mars is believed to already be molten. The problem is that it isn't spinning.

        Figuring out how many bombs are required for that is left as an exercise for the reader.

    3. LeeE Silver badge

      Life as we know it?

      From the 'separate' study referenced in the article: "By the time oxygenic photosynthesis evolved on Earth, Mars had been a hyper-arid, frozen desert with a surface bombarded by high-energy solar and cosmic radiation for more than a billion years, and as a result, photosynthetic surface life may never have occurred on Mars"

      The above is quite probably true, as far as photosynthetic life is concerned, but also irrelevant because it's currently reckoned that anaerobic life had been around for around 750 My before there was any free oxygen on Earth, and a further 1 Gy before there was any atmospheric oxygen available for photosynthesis.

      So yes, it is very unlikely that photosynthetic life ever arose on Mars but the possibility of anaerobic life occurring there is still quite high.

      So not life like us but definitely life as we know it.

  3. nilsonaj

    how about we move mars closer to the Sun....It would be warmer, and a shorter trip from earth.

    Nudge a large asteroid from the asteroid belt to hit the planet drive it closer to the sun and increase its mass at the same time. What could possibly go wrong.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Too late. Mars is already past its "Use By" date. Making it warmer won't do much against the already-gone atmosphere and magnetic fields.

      As for "What could go wrong?" one miscalculation could have it hurtling towards US.

      1. Florida1920 Silver badge
        Joke

        @Charles 9

        As for "What could go wrong?" one miscalculation could have it hurtling towards US.
        Yes, we've already seen what happens when a dense, red rock hits the U.S.

        1. Farnet

          Yes, we've already seen what happens when a dense, red rock hits the U.S.

          Nice subtle Trump reference.... :-)

    2. druck
      Happy

      how about we move mars closer to the Sun....It would be warmer, and a shorter trip from earth.

      Mars might not be great, but it's hell of a lot nicer than Venus.

      So if you are moving Mars closer, move Venus a bit further away. Watchout for the earth in the middle though!

      1. Swarthy Silver badge
        Happy

        Can we smack (ice-based) asteroids into Mars and Venus, and get them to mash up at L3? Blend "Too hot with too much atmosphere" with "too cold, and no atmosphere" plus a shitload of water, and we should have a decent place to start.

  4. Brian Miller Silver badge

    The soil is toxic

    What is the point in setting up a colony when the soil is toxic and its dust will surely kill you? It may be possible for robots to operate on the surface, but the place is a death trap for people.

    We may all be stuck on this planet until our species has run its course.

    1. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: The soil is toxic

      toxic soil? well... not exactly.

      I found THIS article which says that Mars' soil contains perchlorates.

      FYI - perchlorates can be 'burned' to release OXYGEN. Mixed with water, they'd react with other things in the soil, kind of like bleach. The ultimate result would be "oxidized things" and some kind of chloride salt. Keep in mind Earth's oceans are filled with salt, too.

      So it looks like a lack of water for an unspecified LONG period of time has resulted in some nasty salt compounds in the soil. No surprise.

      As for me, I'm rather happy that it was PERCHLORATE discovered in the soil. Wash it really well, distill the water back out, and the result can be "reacted with something" to release OXYGEN. Sounds like a WIN to me!

    2. annodomini2 Bronze badge
  5. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
    Pint

    Mission to Mars - some predictions...

    The video crew from the PBS/NHK joint venture will arrive the day before to set up their equipment, to properly capture The Big Event. It'll take a while to figure out, after the fact, that it was actually Mildred from the Catering Dept that was The First Human On Mars, because she wandered out early to arrange the cucumber sandwiches.

    Their explorations will eventually stumble across a 1944 Kubelwagen containing a skeleton dressed in what's left of a military uniform, handcuffed to a suitcase stuffed with 1940s European cash. Musk's hidden cameras will record the hilarity for broadcast.

    Once the permanent crew settles in, somebody will start reminiscing about how delicious donairs are; and it'll all end in tears and murder shortly thereafter.

  6. The Nazz Silver badge

    I call fake.

    That's not a picture of Mars. It's a road in Kirklees, one of many i suppose.

    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: I call fake.

      Where shall we send the 5 pounds? (<-character map not working today)

  7. onefang Silver badge

    The chances of anything evolving on Mars are a million to one, ...

  8. DougS Silver badge

    We used to say that about a lot of places on Earth...

    ...where life was later found.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: We used to say that about a lot of places on Earth...

      Such as the top of Mount Everest? That's about as close to the conditions on Mars as exists on Earth within our reach, and WE can't stay up there for very long.

      1. DougS Silver badge

        Re: We used to say that about a lot of places on Earth...

        We are pretty ill equipped for survival compared to many simpler forms of life. Is there life on the peak of Everest? I doubt anyone has checked (since they are too busy celebrating quickly followed by getting the hell back down) but I would be surprised if there wasn't. There's sunlight and water, which is a pretty good start (and better than what some extremophiles have to work with)

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: We used to say that about a lot of places on Earth...

          But it's also hypoxic and hypothermic, which are two strikes against life as we know it working there. As noted, the life would have to be anaerobic to begin with, but even anaerobic life would have trouble maintaining their energy when it's so cold it'll keep sapping the life out of you (atop Everest, if the hypoxia doesn't get you, the hypothermia will, and we have the advantage of being able to generate heat--note you never see reptiles in the Arctic). Dealing with extreme hypothermia would involve some radical shifts in both physical and chemical processes (if at all possible--some things simply won't work in that cold due to falling below things like triple points).

          1. DougS Silver badge

            Re: We used to say that about a lot of places on Earth...

            Wasn't the first life on Earth anaerobic? Granted the cold would be a problem, but sunlight is sunlight and if they have slow metabolic processes and are basically in suspended animation at night or when its cloudy its still life.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I don't care if it is made of slime mould

    as long as Trump and all his clan are on the first rocket, the world will be a safer place.

    1. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

      Re: I don't care if it is made of slime mould

      Alternatively, you and your kin could go there...

      1. wayward4now
        Happy

        Re: I don't care if it is made of slime mould

        Thank you, I was ready to make the same comment.

  10. Matthew 17

    Mars may be dead, and was always so, however...

    Living there would be far more difficult than moving to Antarctica. All of these things are known. However given that you can't poison groundwater or displace a species of rare frogs there's no reason why you couldn't mine the shit out of it or use it as a stepping stone for deeper space exploration. As robotics and AI improve then Mars could be the next Cybertron colonised by robots, set to the task of mining and assembling huge domed cities for those biological bipeds to visit / live. Once the technology for automating the manufacturing of new robots exist from mining the raw materials to the assembly line then that process would run itself without cost or human intervention. Humans are limited in where they can live almost all of the universe would kill them instantly but machines can live anywhere without much limitation, one day they'll realise that.

  11. Dan 55 Silver badge

    Maybe Mars is a dead end

    However it's the second closest stepping stone there is to Earth on the way to Europa. We're certainly not going to be able to get Europa if we don't know how to get to Mars first.

  12. Primus Secundus Tertius Silver badge

    I am surprised that Mars is described as a cold rock. 99% of Earth by volume is at white heat or above. Mars is smaller, and will be cooler; and its core has solidified. But then, the central part of Earth's core is reckoned to be solid.

    So I suggest Mars is not stone cold, so to speak (except for the surface).

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    matt dAMON

    Once all the people brought up on sci fi from the 50s are dead we may get a rational way forward.

    Maybe people should try living unsupported in Antartica for 5 years before getting excited about the dead planet.

    At the moment you get these eco dome projects somewhere sunny where they probably nip out for a fag every couple of days.

  14. x 7 Silver badge

    So its a cold dark rock.

    Didn't stop the Martian Rock Snakes from living there. Magma for blood, no need for water

    Gerry Anderson knew all about life on Mars all those years ago

    1. wayward4now
      Holmes

      "Didn't stop the Martian Rock Snakes from living there. Magma for blood, no need for water

      Gerry Anderson knew all about life on Mars all those years ago"

      I live there and I don't know who Gerry is. I spend my time cultivating ham bushes and blanket trees. You all keep your damn rovers, as all they do is leave trails all over my lawn.

  15. ecofeco Silver badge

    But we knew this

    We've known this most of the last century. Mars' only reason to be colonized is to act as a base for asteroid mining.

  16. Crisp Silver badge

    We really ought to be sending probes to Europa.

    It can't be that difficult to get through the ice. All we need is a lander with a submarine, and an orbital satellite with a magnifying glass attached.

    1. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: We really ought to be sending probes to Europa.

      Oh Noes....

      “ALL THESE WORLDS ARE YOURS,

      ***EXCEPT EUROPA***.

      ATTEMPT NO LANDING THERE.

      USE THEM TOGETHER.

      USE THEM IN PEACE.”

  17. Flakk Silver badge

    It's a cold, dead rock...

    ...surprising absolutely nobody that has been keeping track of the scientific data coming from Mars since the mid-1970s. That cold water that you seem to be attempting to fling is pretty tepid stuff.

    It doesn't seem likely that we could colonize the outer planets before first establishing a presence on Mars. Nevertheless, do ignore any lobby you please. I certainly do.

  18. Cynic_999 Silver badge

    Not a huge priority

    If we had the technology and the resources to convert the Martian environment into something that could sustain even plant life, we could surely carry out the far less demanding tasks of altering Earth's average temperature by a few tenths of a degree, adjust Earth's CO2 by a fraction of a percent, and create rain in the desert regions?

    Meanwhile, in my opinion it would be far more beneficial if we were to colonize the oceans and create large-scale oceanic farms (both plant and fish). Far less new technology needed, and fewer unknowns, with an immediate return on investment. And the colonists don't have to stay there, and don't have to die.

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