Venus is said to have once looked like Earth. That was a long time ago, probably three billion years ago, the most earth-like planet is said to have harbored water and the chance for life. Today, however, it is a seething hell. And so astronomers look at our other neighbor, which is further out in space: Mars. Can you breathe and maybe even live on Mars? Despite all the contradictions, this question could have its justification.
Dust dry, red, repellent
Mars is not as big as Earth, in fact it is an amazing amount smaller than our home planet. If you put the two rocky planets side by side, Mars would be about a third the size of Earth. And although it is smaller and no life has yet been recorded, several facts speak in favor of Mars.
Its surface is dotted with craters, deserts, canyons and mountains. Ever since Mars rovers like Curiosity, Opportunity, and now Perseverance snapped footage of the red planet’s surface, we’ve got an idea of just how forbidding it is. On the rock plateaus, the question arises: Can one breathe and live on Mars? The answer: At least to some extent, possibly.
Can you breathe and live on Mars?
If you could breathe and live on Mars, it would probably already have its own biodiversity. Living beings would then probably roam through savannahs or forests just as naturally as we do on earth.
Obviously, since Mars does not have this, humans cannot breathe and live directly on the red planet’s surface. The conditions just aren’t there for a nice walk on the surface. Three aspects describe the hostility of the planet most impressively:
#1 Temperature and Weather
Can you breathe and live on Mars? Yes, you can, for a few seconds, maybe even a minute. The warmest temperatures on the planet are at the equator. It can get up to 20 degrees Celsius there. So a person could easily be out and about there with a T-shirt.
But the temperature differences on Mars are enormous. While it would be 20 degrees warm on the day side of the equator, it would be minus 85 degrees Celsius on the night side. The temperature differences between the day and night sides create strong winds that often sweep the surface as sandstorms at several hundred kilometers per hour.
It’s getting colder north and south of the equator. The daytime temperature is then minus 70 degrees Celsius and at night 125 degrees. Either way, an unprotected human would freeze to death within minutes on the surface.
#2 The air to breathe
The atmosphere of Mars is thin. It cannot store heat and is made up of 96 percent carbon dioxide and just 0.14 percent oxygen. For comparison: The earth has an oxygen content of 21 percent and 0.04 percent carbon dioxide. A person would suffocate within seconds without a breathing apparatus.
And finally, solar radiation plays a major role. Unlike Earth, Mars has a much weaker magnetic field. Solar winds, the eruptions of our home star, penetrate the surface unhindered. The radioactive radiation would penetrate a person immediately and cause a great deal of damage to the body cells.
Is it possible to breathe and live on Mars after all?
At least on a very small scale, humanity wants to be able to breathe and live on Mars in the future. The “Perseverance” rover launched in 2020 is already making a small contribution to this. The rover is equipped with a so-called “Mars Oxygen In Situ Resource Utilization Experiment”, or Moxie for short.
Put simply, Moxie is a canister aboard Perseverance that makes use of the abundant carbon dioxide in the Martian atmosphere. It splits enriched carbon dioxide into carbon and oxygen.
As SWR Wissen writes, this technology could make a manned Mars mission possible in the first place. During its first attempt in 2021, the device gained a total of five grams of oxygen. An astronaut could breathe and live with it for about ten minutes. In the future, NASA plans to place 100 to 200 times larger Moxie containers on Mars to supply oxygen to a Mars base.
It will be some time before then, but several countries are already planning manned missions to Mars in the foreseeable future. So we can be excited and maybe in a few decades the first humans will be able to live and breathe permanently on Mars.
Sources: SWR knowledge, YouTube | Elder Fox Documentaries