Margarita Marinova: Turning the Red Planet Green Inevitable Step

Novinite Insider » INTERVIEW | August 29, 2005, Monday // 00:00| Views: | Comments: 0
Margarita Marinova: Turning the Red Planet Green Inevitable Step Margarita Marinova. Photo by www. nai.arc.nasa.gov

Bulgarian Margarita Marinova, a graduate student at the California Institute of Technology and co-author of a NASA study, is planning to turn the Red Planet into a green one, one that could support life.

By the age of 24 Marinova has already co-authored many scientific papers. In high school, she was the chair of the Toronto Chapter of the International Mars Society. And three times she coordinated a team that entered the International NASA Space Settlement Design Contest, and her team won all three years.

The young scientist answered questions about her ambitious project to Sofia News Agency Editor Nadya Dimitrova

Q: Where did your idea for "turning the Red Planet into a green one" came from?

A: The idea of terraforming the planets, and specifically Mars, was first proposed by Jack Williamson in the 1940's. Through time, famous authors such as Arthur C. Clarke, have further developed the idea of terraforming Mars. I believe that terreforming Mars is an inevitable step of colonizing the planet. As someone who wants to go to Mars, I naturally had an interest in the options for colonizing Mars, and from that the idea of conducting a realistic study of a currently technologically feasible way to terraform Mars arose.

Q: How are you planning to do that?

A: On Earth we have a lot of experience with greenhouse gases. The natural greenhouse gases such as CO2, water vapour, and ozone are responsible for the habitability of the Earth (causing an average warming of 30C), while additional CO2 that humans produce, as well as artificial super greenhouse gases such as CFC, are causing global warming which may have catastrophic consequences for humans. Never the less, we have clearly shown that we can produce greenhouse gases and we have quantified their effects.

Because of our extensive knowledge of greenhouse gases, they are the most feasible way of terraforming Mars. Mars is currently a lifeless place because of its very thin atmosphere, its low temperature, and the consequent lack of liquid water on the surface. The addition of greenhouse gases on Mars would raise the global temperature, which would in turn melt the frozen CO2 polar caps, thus thickening the atmosphere, and with the higher temperature and pressure, liquid water would be stable on the surface of the planet. With these changes, it would be much easier for humans to colonize Mars, but most importantly terraforming Mars would make it habitable and would make it possible to spread life to the planet. If Mars does not currently have any dormant life, then we can introduce Earth organisms there and spread the most precious thing that we know of - life - out into the Universe.

Q: How will your project affect life on the Earth?

A: By terreforming Mars we would learn an incredible amount about how a planet responds to such drastic global changes, allowing us to better predict how global warming will affect the Earth. In addition, the spreading of life to another planet would allow us to experience first hand how life adapts to a new environment.

Q: Do you think that the Red Planet is the only possible option for "life outside the Earth"?

A: While Mars is possibly the best candidate for life outside of the Earth (at least in our Solar System), it certainly is not the only one. The search for life on Europa (a moon of Jupiter) is currently underway as it is a great candidate for life as well. Europa's surface is an ice shell, but under the ice shell is a very deep ocean. Since so far the only requirement for life that we know of is liquid water, this means that life may have developed on Europa.

Having only one example of life - Earth life - it is difficult to say if life is a phenomenon unique to the Earth or if it is a common occurrence in the Universe. In my opinion, since we so far have not found anything particularly special about the Earth in terms of its chemical composition and formation mechanism compared to what we would expect elsewhere in the galaxy, I think that life is likely to have started on many planets outside of our Solar System.

Q: Are there some raw materials and energy sources on Mars that could replace the ones consumed on the Earth?

A: When people start building colonies on Mars, they will have to almost exclusively use materials from Mars as energy sources and for building materials. Because of the great cost of transferring materials between Mars and the Earth, Mars is really in no way an option for solving the problems on the Earth - we cannot move any significant number of people to Mars and we certainly cannot import materials from Mars to the Earth.

Q: How do you plan to maintain the artificially created environment conditions on Mars?

A: The idea of terraforming Mars is to release the sequestered CO2 from the polar caps and the soil into the atmosphere. With time, this CO2 atmosphere will react with water on the surface to form carbonate rocks (for example, limestone). There is no real way for us to stop this process from happening, however, it will occur on a timscale of millions of years, which is in effect unimportant on the scale of human existence and evolution.
The more real issue is that with time the artificial greenhouse gases will be destroyed by UV light and other atmospheric reactions. This means that the gases have to continuously be replenished. The gases that we chose in our study have lifetimes on the order of 10,000 years, so the replenishment rate is quite low and very easily achievable.

Q: Do you think there could be "intelligent life" on Mars that has not been discovered?

A: No, I do not think that there could be any intelligent life on Mars. I think the chances of any life on Mars are extremely low because the environment is so hostile.

Q: Where did you interest in science come from?

A: I have always been interested in math and science. Both my parents are computer engineers, so it was in a way a natural interest for me. Also as a child I spent my entire summers exploring around the cottage - this peeked my curiosity about everything that was going on in nature. From then on, as I had more chances to learn science in school, the interest just grew.
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