How do we terraform Mercury?

(ORDO NEWS) — Mercury is the closestplanetto the Sun , the surface of which can warm up to 427 degrees Celsius (hereinafter, values ​​are given in degrees Celsius). However, due to the fact that Mercury has no atmosphere, intense heat is observed only on the side that faces directly to the Sun. On the night side, the temperature drops to -173 degrees.

Mercury has a rotation period of 58.6462 Earth days, so the night side remains cold for a long period of time. Moreover, in the northern polar region, which is constantly shaded, conditions remain sufficiently cold to ensure the presence of water ice.

Scientists believe that someday humanity will be able to colonize and even terraform certain parts of Mercury. How to do it? About this in our article.

Alluring planet Mercury

With an average radius of 2,440 km and a mass of 3.3022 × 10 ^ 23 kilograms, Mercury is the smallest planet in the solar system , only 38% of the size of the Earth. Although Mercury is smaller than some natural satellites such as Ganymede and Titan, it is still more massive. In fact, the density of Mercury (5.427 g / cm3) is the second highest in the solar system, only slightly inferior to that of the Earth (5.515 g / cm3).

Mercury also has the most eccentric orbit of all the planets in the solar system. With an eccentricity of 0.205, its distance from the Sun varies from 46 to 70 million kilometers. For one revolution around the Sun, Mercury needs 87.969 Earth days.

As one of the four terrestrial planets in the solar system, Mercury is approximately 70% metallic and 30% silicate. Based on density and size, a number of important conclusions can be drawn about the inner structure of this planet. For example, geologists estimate that the core of Mercury occupies about 42% of its volume, compared to 17% of the volume that is found in the core of the Earth.

The interior is believed to be composed of molten iron surrounded by a layer of silicate material 500-700 kilometers thick. The outer layer of Mercury is represented by the crust, which scientists believe is between 100 and 300 kilometers thick.

The planet’s surface is covered with numerous ridges, craters and plains. It is believed that all this geological diversity was formed during that historical period when the core and mantle of Mercury rapidly cooled and shrank, and the crust was already solid.

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The core of Mercury exhibits a higher iron content than the core of any other major planet in the solar system, and several theories have been proposed to explain this phenomenon:

  • The most widely held theory is that Mercury was once a larger planet, into which a planetesimal crashed, “ripping off” much of the original crust and mantle, leaving the core as its primary component;
  • Another theory states that Mercury formed before the Sun’s energy production was stabilized, and its original mass was twice as large as it is today. However, much of Mercury’s mass was vaporized by the protosun, which exposed it to extreme temperatures for prolonged periods of time;
  • The third theory is that the Sun put up continuous resistance to the particles from which Mercury was accreted, and this caused the lighter particles to be thrown away. As a result, Mercury was formed from the heaviest particles that were nearby.

At first glance, Mercury looks like Earth’s moon – this gray landscape, dotted with craters from collisions with asteroids and ancient lava flows. Combined with the vast plains, this indicates that the planet has been geologically inactive for billions of years. However, unlike the Moon, which has similar regions in terms of geology, the surface of Mercury looks much more disordered.

The vast majority of Mercury’s surface, where temperatures range from -173 to 427 degrees, is uninhabitable. However, at the poles, the temperature is consistently low and is -93 degrees, which is explained by the constant shading of these regions.

In 2012, NASA’s Messenger (Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry and Ranging – MESSENGER) probe detected signs of water ice and organic molecules in the north polar region of Mercury. Twenty years before Messenger, scientists suspected that craters in this region of Mercury could hide ice that was most likely brought by comets in the past. The Messenger mission confirmed these assumptions.

Scientists believe there is ice at the south pole of Mercury too. In general, according to their estimates, Mercury can contain from 100 billion to 1 trillion tons of water ice at both poles, and in some places the depth of the ice layer can reach 20 meters! At the North Pole, water ice is especially concentrated in the Tryggwadottir, Tolkien, Kandinsky and Prokofiev craters, which range in diameter from 31 to 112 kilometers.

In addition, the Messenger mission revealed “holes” on the surface of Mercury, which seemed to go deep into the planet. This may indicate the presence of lava tubes that formed during the period of volcanic activity on young Mercury. Stable lava tubes are seen as a possible location for colonies to be protected from radiation, cosmic radiation and other external threats.

Colonization of Mercury

While terraforming an entire planet is not entirely practical, its subsurface geology, crater surface, and orbital characteristics make colonizing and terraforming some areas attractive.

For example, in the northern polar region, where permanently shaded craters containing water ice and organic molecules are located, domed structures can be erected to contain the atmosphere created inside.

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The creation of domed structures is a variation of the Shell Worlds concept, which in turn is part of a larger concept known as para-terraforming, where the world is enclosed (in whole or in part) in an artificial shell in order to transform the environment. Using this approach, northern craters could be placed in domes, and orbital mirrors could focus sunlight inside these structures to provoke partial ice evaporation.

The photolysis process could convert water vapor into gaseous oxygen and hydrogen, the latter of which could be used as fuel or released into outer space. Also, ammonia, most likely extracted in other regions of the solar system, and then converted into gaseous nitrogen by introducing certain strains of bacteria – species Nitrosomonas, Pseudomonas and Clostridium, which will convert ammonia into nitrites (NO2-), and then into nitrogen gas.

Likewise, you can colonize Mercury’s lava tubes by building bases inside the most stable ones. These areas will be naturally shielded from cosmic and solar radiation, extreme temperatures, and the pressure inside them can be high enough to create a breathable atmosphere. In addition, temperatures deep below the surface can be so comfortable that housing can be erected without any additional protection.

Potential Benefits of Colonizing Mercury

Mercury’s relative proximity to Earth makes it an attractive location for terraforming and colonizing. On average, Mercury is 77 million kilometers from Earth. To put this distance in perspective, recall that NASA’s Mariner 10 probe (which took a straighter route than Messenger) made it to Mercury in just five months.

The colonies built on Mercury will be conveniently located to provide other facilities with minerals and solar energy. As the second densest planet in the solar system, Mercury is rich in iron, nickel and silicate minerals that can be used locally or elsewhere. In addition, its proximity to the Sun means that space solar arrays can be erected in orbit to generate and store gigantic amounts of energy. This energy can then be transferred to other locations in the solar system for local use.

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In addition, the solar wind delivers hydrogen and helium to the exosphere, and the radioactive decay of these elements occurring in the crust of Mercury makes the planet a natural source of hydrogen fuel and helium-3, which could be used to power thermonuclear reactors both on the planet and for its limits.

All this suggests that the colonies on Mercury will not only be self-sufficient, but will also be able to provide other colonies of the solar system with the necessary resources and energy. Unlike other potential locations that would have required the import of massive amounts of resources, the first wave of Mercury colonists could have met most of their needs shortly after their arrival.

Possible problems with the colonization of Mercury

As always, the prospect of terraforming Mercury is fraught with several problems, the solution of one of which requires the solution of others.

Fortunately, in comparison with other planets (or satellites) of the solar system, there are significantly fewer of them. In short, the problems with the colonization of Mercury boil down to long distances, imperfect technologies, as well as natural disasters that we are not able to control.

Despite the fact that Mercury is located closer than many other objects of the solar system, suitable for potential colonization, it will be necessary to make several flights with the participation of passenger, cargo, construction and auxiliary spaceships, which will require a lot of time and a lot of money.

In addition, if we decide to transport some resources from the outer solar system (for example, ammonia, which was mentioned above), then with existing rocket engines it will take decades.

This brings us smoothly to the problem of imperfect technology. In order for spaceships to travel to the outer solar system to extract resources in large quantities, and then return (and do all this within a reasonable time frame), they must be equipped with advanced propulsion systems.

For example, a nuclear thermal propulsion system, a fusion drive system, or some other advanced concept would be suitable for this role. Unfortunately, we have none of this yet.

Do not forget about the huge amount of materials that will be required to build giant domes capable of covering many kilometers of craters. Orbital mirrors are also expensive to build. Although these minerals can be mined locally, the process will still be very expensive, time consuming and very dangerous.

The situation is similar with the hypothetical transport of solar energy through outer space. We are not even close to creating technologies that would allow, for example, converting energy into a powerful laser beam that would “shoot” into a receiver somewhere in Earth’s orbit to convert this pulse into usable energy. Technology has a long way to go; and even after we develop this, it will be very difficult and expensive to build such a system between Mercury and other objects in the solar system.

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In order to begin colonization, we will need a large fleet of spaceships to ferry colonists, equipment and resources. In addition, it will require the creation of a station between Earth and Mercury, which would allow refueling and replenishment of resources.

Finally, any construction work will be fraught with incredible risks. Even if we decide to locate in the North Polar region or in the lava tubes of Mercury, where there will be reliable enough protection from external threats, the first crews of workers will have to work in extremely dangerous conditions to erect domes or subsurface bases.

Conclusion

In the end, unlike projects to terraform other objects in the solar system, the colonization and paraterformation of Mercury seems quite feasible. And although this will require huge resources, the most advanced technology and people who are ready to take serious risks, the colonization of Mercury will pay off all these investments.

If we colonized Mercury, we would provide minerals and energy to all parts of the solar system where we would decide to stay. The resources of Mercury would become an integral part of the “space economy”, which would sponsor the creation and development of new colonies.

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