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Millions of years ago, Mars had an ocean and a thick atmosphere. It is long gone now. Solar wind, over an extremely long period, caused its seas to vanish and its atmosphere to strip away. But, NASA has a long-term plan to protect Mars from solar wind – and thus to restore its Earth-like atmosphere and its seas. The plan is not intended to be carried out anytime soon, and will be a daunting technological feat. Nonetheless, plans for this massive project exist. NASA scientist Jim Green is responsible for proposing this very ambitious plan.
Due to the fact that magnetic energy can affect the solar wind, the plan will involve an enormous magnetic field. A pair of enormously powerful electromagnets will be placed between Mars and the sun. The magnets will create what is known as a “magnetotail” – a region that the solar wind is pushed away from and cannot pass through. With enough energy, the magnetotail could be large enough to protect the entire planet.
NASA’s long-term plan to restore the former oceans and atmosphere of Mars
While it has been proposed that Mars could naturally restore its own atmosphere over time due to warming temperatures and the melting of the ice caps, this process, unless artificially accelerated, could take hundreds of millions of years. If Mars were to be protected by an enormous magnetic field, on the other hand, it might only take a few years for much of the atmosphere to be restored.
The purpose of this enormously ambitious project is to make Mars at least relatively habitable to human colonists. While the atmosphere produced in this way would not necessarily be breathable, the planet’s environment could nonetheless become much less hostile. Not a great deal is publicly known about how much magnetic energy would be necessary for this project to work, or the proposed power source of these powerful magnets. Nonetheless, if the project is successful, human habitation of Mars may be possible in the next century.