Ask ARSE: Why Terraform Mars And Not The Moon?

Hello there ARSE gang!
Welcome to another edition of Ask ARSE: the place where our delightful followers who spread ARSE probe us for answers about the deep unknown.

We have a question about terraforming - which literally translates to "Earth shaping" - and why Mars is the favoured option and not our little lunar satellite.

But we'll leave it to our good friend to ask.

"Hey guys Matthew here. I was watching the movie the Martian with Matt Damon from Team America and it was great. But I had to think that it was heaps of trouble to go there when the moon is way closer. Why don't we make the moon habitable instead? Thanks heaps and loving my stickers and ARSE hat." - Matthew, Adelaide.

Thanks for the question Mark and a good one to be sure!

Let's get the elephant in the room out of the way first...

While the concept of terraforming is possible, we simply don't have the technology or means to do it yet.

BUT, to indulge your question, let's just go ahead and theorise in this scenario it's the year 2,500 and we've got it sorted.

To your point mate, there are actually a bunch of advantages to making the moon a bit Earthier over Mars.

And yes, it's possible - in theory - and even some ways it is more realistic to "mother nature" the moon.

It would take a heck of a lot less time, money, and resources with the moon just a few days travel away. And because Mars is about seven months away, there's about 70 moon trips worth of time, money and energy involved for us getting there.

But how do we start?
First things first: we need a lunar atmosphere.

Let's say we hurl thousands of icy comets to release water vapour and carbon dioxide. Or, we Musk it and nuke the ice reserves on the moon's southern pole. (Ps: this isn't going to work with the size of the moon and the small reserves of water... *cue fights in comments*)

With enough time, these asteroids will become an atmosphere of carbon dioxide, methane and ammonia with the potential to create a greenhouse effect.

This will warm the moon (in a positive way, not an Al Gore climate change way) and allow the water vapour to settle on the surface in liquid form.

Ever wondered what the moon would look like with oceans?

Wonder no more.
It's a planet-ish looking Louisiana.

 



The reflective surface of the moon's oceans would make the moon five times brighter than it is now.

Is this good or bad?
Depends on who you ask.
Some plants will grow faster/bigger, while some will struggle and wither in the added radiation from the suns rays.

The same can be said for fauna that live off the plants mentioned above. Plus, don't get us started on nocturnal animals. Which would include the sleeping patterns of our 8 billion odd human inhabitants on Earth. Picture a bright full moon. Now picture it FIVE times brighter...
That's almost daylight!

A bit exaggerated, but could you imagine looking at a super full moon and seeing this?

 



Back on the moon, the asteroids pummeling the surface have built enough momentum that the moons axis rotation speeds up. Instead of one moon day taking 28 Earth days, the moon would see night and day over around 60 hours.

A side effect of this is that the moon wouldn't be synchronised with the Earth anymore and we'd see the far side of the moon from Earth every 30 hours.

 



The next big step is creating a magnetic field to stop the sun's solar winds from destroying the atmosphere. With any luck, the new rotation of the moon kickstarts its mini-molten core and spontaneously creates a magnetic field like a planet.

There are other options we would have to consider if this didn't happen. Like an artificial 'shield' that filters solar winds, or a solenoid that makes a magnet out of the iron-rich regolith (moon dust).

Crazy in terms of technology required, but damn it looks cool conceptually.

 



If we're getting green lights across the board at this stage, we can green the moon, literally. With an atmosphere and magnetic field, we can introduce plant life and algae to the moon. But keep in mind they would need to be genetically modified to thrive in the unique environment. The moon would be a hothouse, to talk in plant terms. ANd the regolith we mentioned is rich in metals that make it distinctive from Earth's soil.

But what about the oceans we've built? Surfs up, dude!
Moon waves are - on average - about 10 to 20 metres high. And like we said previously, the moon's unique topography from being pelted with objects for millions of years means the land is raggedly random. With no tectonic plates like Earth, the moon is full of small mountainous ridges and basins to pool water.



The moon Olympics would be interesting because the average person could jump over 3 metres in the air and hang out at the peak of their jump for about 4 seconds.

Unfortunately, the low gravity would mean the atmosphere we've built wouldn't last more than 1,000 years. This might sound like a long time, but the effort involved wouldn't make it a sound investment. There's a reason most moons that we know of don't have an atmosphere.

Mars on the other hand?
An atmosphere would thrive for millions of years, even without a magnetoshere.

Another consideration is that while the moon is close, there's a lot of difference in Earth gravity. Meaning, our physiology couldn't continually become accustomed to the low-gravity of the moon and higher gravity of Earth back and forth because acclimatisation takes months.

You'd either only spend a few weeks on the moon, maximum. Or you live there forever. This means the low-gravity weakens your bones and musculoskeletal system.
But at least you can say "I'm a moon man now!" and never head back to Earth with your brittle bones and jello muscles. There are considerations that low gravity is good and bad for human physiology, but we won't know until we spend more time in these environments.

We hope this was enlightening!
Get it, the moon is 5 times brighter?

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