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Elon Musk thinks that we can make Mars habitable by nuking it. But would that really work?
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Hello everyone, I'm Hank Green, and Elon Musk wants to blow up Mars! Okay no. He said that if you want to make Mars livable really quickly, we just need to drop some nuclear bombs on the poles. The idea is that the bombs would be a quick way to terraform Mars, in other words, make the planet capable of supporting human life, or at least more comfortable for human life.

These nuclear explosions would have the double effect of adding a lot of heat to the Martian atmosphere and also releasing a bunch the water and carbon dioxide locked in the ice at the poles. Water and CO2 are both potent greenhouse gases so Mars would warm up more, possibly enough for people to not be dead for a fairly long time if exposed on the surface. We talked a little bit about terraforming before and there are ways that it could work on Mars, but contrary to the title of this video there are quite a number of problems with Musk's idea. 

First, you're talking about making Mars even more radioactive than it already is. Mars has terrifically strong winds and any ionizing radiation from the nuclear weapons would only add to one of the greatest challenges we face in exploring Mars. That being not the lack of oxygen, or air pressure, or livable temperatures, but the lack of a magnetic field. On Earth, our magnetic field bends the Sun's radiation around us. Now out atmosphere also helps with that but the magnetic field is a big deal, and our bodies evolved to live on this planet, so when we don't have that magnetic field, like when we're in space, our bodies don't do particularly well. DNA ionizes, cancers form, organs are damaged. Now it's not an immediate death sentence and it would be made better if there was some CO2 and water in the atmosphere but it would definitely decrease the lifespan of residents on Mars. 

Additionally blowing up a bunch of nuclear bombs, and to be clear it would be a bunch of them not just one or two, on the surface of Mars would also seriously mess with our scientific goals. I want people on Mars as much as the next geek but the reason I want them there is primarily so we can study our universe and expand our sample size of well-understood planets from one to two. And particularly if we can expand our sample size of well-understood biologies from one to two. Regardless of how likely or unlikely it is that Mars has life, the last thing I want to do is introduce a massive change to the potential Martian ecosystem before we're able to study it. 

Now my last problem with this, aside from my growing belief that Elon Musk is a literal supervillian, is that I have not mentioned the biggest problem with Mars' habitability. It's kind of a dumb one, and it's not sexy, and it was only recently confirmed: perchlorates. They're chlorine atoms bounded to four oxygens in an ionic compound with some metal. Calcium perchlorate seems to be everywhere on Mars in quantities that would be very dangerous to people. Up to 1% of the Martian soil is calcium perchlorate which is an extremely strong oxidizer. In low quantities it interferes with the thyroid, which controls your body's endocrine system, and in high quantities, it burns the lungs and eyes and skin. Martian dust is everywhere, tiny tiny particles of it constantly blowing around the planet. These particles, which contain perchlorate salts, are so tiny that it would be extremely difficult to wash of suits.

The good news though, is that perchlorates are an excellent source of oxygen and can even be burned as fuel. There are simple biochemical reactions that make perchlorate harmless and release oxygen which means we pretty much won't have to bring any oxygen with us to Mars. On Earth, there are even bacteria that consume perchlorates, meaning that it may be an important part of potential Martian ecologies. The bad news is, Mars is covered in poison, and we can't nuke it away. 

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