Monday, September 20, 2021

Astronomer: Mars colonization would revive old ethical dilemmas

Mexico City, Mar 19 (EFE).- Colonizing Mars would require a series of technological processes that would both allow humans to survive there and revive old ethical dilemmas we have faced before, Mexican astronomer Luis Aguilar told EFE.

The researcher at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM0 said that, if human beings travel to another planet, that would present a situation similar to the one Europeans faced when colonizing other parts of the Earth.

If some form of life exists there, we would have to evaluate from the ethical point of view whether it would be all right to alter it and exploit its territory, he said.

So, the spread of humans to another planet would see a clash between two different lines of thought because if we found microscopic or macroscopic life there “many people could say: it’s better it we modify (the planet) so that it serves us,” he said.

On the other hand, the other mode of thinking would argue that “That’s not ethical; we’re arriving as invaders, intruders. Even though the life on that planet might be microscopic, it’s the planet’s life. What right do we have to modify it?”

“Just because something might be technologically possible doesn’t mean we have to do it,” he said.

Settling on another planet would mean undertaking the process known as terraforming, a series of actions that would replicate – insofar as is possible – the conditions for life on Earth by altering the planet’s atmosphere and surface so that we can live there.

“It’ll cost a great deal to undertake the process,” Aguilar added, noting that Mars presents problems such as “the atmosphere is very thin, it’s very cold and there’s no liquid water on the surface.”

We would have to “increase the density of the atmosphere, warm the planet and make it so that water can exist on the surface.”

A potentially viable way to accomplish this would be to heat the planet’s polar icecaps, which consist of “dry ice,” that is frozen carbon dioxide “although there is also a good amount of water ice.”

Heating the icecaps would require technological measures with possible approaches ranging from using nuclear blasts to placing gigantic mirrors in orbit to focus the Sun’s rays more directly onto the frozen surface.

Heating the icecaps would send water vapor and frozen gases into the atmosphere, thus making it more dense, Aguilar said.

The final stage in making Mars habitable would be seeding the planet with plant life, something that would be very difficult to achieve although it “would be much easier to modify bacteria that already exist on Earth to make them resistant to the Martian environment,” then to deposit them on the planet’s surface so that they reproduce and help modify the atmosphere to the desired conditions.

“When the oxygen levels became sufficiently high, we could think about planting vegetable life,” he said.