The plan calls for putting a nuclear reactor on Phobos, the moon of Mars. Strangely, as part of the Artemis mission, NASA recently disclosed identical intentions to install a reactor on our Moon.
Mars had a magnetosphere billions of years ago, which made the planet far more habitable than it is now. The planet lies in the Solar System's so-called habitable zone, but since it lacks a magnetic field, it is vulnerable to direct solar winds.
A new, ambitious proposal to develop habitable atmospheric conditions for people on the Red Planet has been put out by a group of scientists. The idea is to engineer a magnetic field artificially on Mars.
Establishing a magnetic field artificially on Mars
A strong magnetic field surrounds the planet, shielding life on the surface from charged particle streams. Without it, life on the surface would be exceedingly challenging and the Earth's atmosphere would eventually be stripped away by the solar wind. Because Mars lacks the geomagnetic dynamo that generates the Earth's magnetic field, it has a very thin atmosphere.
Researchers from the Rutherford-Appleton Laboratory in the UK, under the direction of Ruth Bamford, looked at numerous options for generating an artificial magnetic field on Mars and settled on the best one. They believe that magnetic coil circuits need a lot of material and will be highly costly, while recreating convective movements in the planet's core will require cyclopean energy expenditures (billions of nuclear explosions) and may cause tectonic instability.
As a result, the scientists thought it would be ideal to use charged particles from Mars' satellite Phobos as the source of a torus that would orbit the planet. It can have a nuclear reactor put on it and orbits the earth at a reasonable distance (9000 km). The energy it will generate will cause the surface of the satellite to gradually evaporate and its constituent parts to become charged particles.
At specialized orbital stations, these charged particles will get extra acceleration before traveling between them around the earth. Ring currents will then flow across the plasma structure that is created, producing an unnatural magnetic field.
Since it is doubtful that mankind will have such technology in the next several decades, this work just presents the idea of creating an artificial magnetic field on Mars. It does not propose any particular technical solutions. To ensure that scientists are organized and ready to work when humans arrive on the Red Planet, it is crucial that such arrangements be developed as early as possible.
On the Moon, there's a nuclear fission reactor?
The primary source of energy that will be used for future space colonization looks to be nuclear power. Although it may sound unduly ambitious at this moment, experts believe that nuclear reactors will also be required for the general colonization.
NASA will test these technologies on the Moon prior to Mars' arrival. The ESA recently disclosed its ambitions to build a nuclear reactor as part of the Artemis mission on the Moon. In order to do this, NASA asked that designs be made for reactors that could be delivered to our natural satellite by the end of this decade.
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• Bamford, R. A., Kellett, B. J., Green, J. L., Dong, C., Airapetian, V., & Bingham, B. (2021, November 12). How to create an artificial magnetosphere for Mars. arXiv.org.
• Chan, A. (2021, November 22). Scientists explore ‘unique’ ways to create artificial magnetic field on Mars. International Business Times.
• Hood, A. L. (2021, November 21). Scientists propose jumpstarting Mars’ magnetic field to make it habitable. Futurism.
• Koberlein, B. (2021, November 19). An absolutely bonkers plan to give Mars an artificial magnetosphere. Universe Today.