It might not look like much from space, but this depression in the Martian landscape might be considered to be a priceless feature when viewed by future Mars colonists.
In December 2008, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) flew silently over the Tharsis bulge, the location of a series of ancient volcanoes. The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) captured what appears to be a deep hole. This kind of feature has been seen before, like a Martian pore, deep and foreboding. Usually these sinkholes aren’t as deep as they look, but they are deeper than the surrounding landscape. They are also similar to their terrestrial counterparts in that they have very steep sides (unlike the gentle, eroded slopes of crater rims) and they are caused by a lack of material below. On Earth, sinkholes often form due to water flowing beneath, removing material, causing the overlying rock/soil to slump, forming a sudden hole. In the example above, the sinkhole (or “collapse pit”) was caused by tectonic activity. In this case, it is likely that the material dropped into a void left over by magma-filled dykes (lava tubes from old volcanoes).
The result is a hole with very steep sides. It has been suggested that these sink holes may be useful to future Mars colonists, as they can use the natural feature for shelter. On Mars, humans would be subject to an increased dosage of radiation (due to the tenuous Martian atmosphere and lack of a global magnetic field), so it is preferable to find any form of natural shelter to build your habitat. The depth of this kind of sinkhole will afford some protection, and drilling into the cavern side would be even better. Perhaps even put a dome over the top? No need to build walls around your building then. Also, there’s the interesting–if a little frightening–prospect of accessing underground lava tubes. Therefore, colonists won’t need to dig very far to create a subterranean habitat with all the radiation protection they’ll ever need (the insulation would also be impressive).
Although this scenario might be a little far-fetched, and probably only suitable for an established human presence on Mars (after all, the numerous valleys would probably suffice for most permanent habitats drilled into cliff faces), it does go to show that the current missions in orbit around Mars are doing a great job at seeking out some possible housing solutions for our future Mars settlers…
Anyhow, today’s Astroengine Live will include an airing of my 10-minute-long podcast for the 365 Days of Astronomy that aired last week (about, you guessed it, “The Link Between Beer and Space Settlement”), a behind-the-scenes look at the AAS conference last week in Long Beach (about, you guessed it, drinking free space beer), and something about magnetars, colliding black holes and hot neutron stars. Oh yes, and a run-down of the Carnival of Space. It’s going to be awesome.
Show starts at 4pm PST, 5pm MST, 6pm CST, 7pm EST… and midnight GMT!
Have any articles or stories you want to contribute? Have an opinion on anything in the world of space? Email me on firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll be sure to give it a mention. Eventually, I hope to have telephone call-ins, but for now, email will do.
This morning I had a thought-provoking interview with Greg Fish, owner and writer for the superb website World of Weird Things. Greg wanted to get my insight to the world of commercial spaceflight and future colonization of other worlds, writing up a brilliant article called Colonizing Space, At A Profit based on my interview.
We examined the benefits mankind can reap from the exploration of space, but the responsibility of doing so is not exclusive to NASA or any other government-funded agency. The future of spaceflight rests in the hands of entrepreneurs, enthusiasts, and primarily, businessmen. Manned exploration of the Moon, Mars and the asteroid belt could open a new frontier of mineral exploitation, in turn opening a new era for mankind. It may be our best hope in the long-run to survive as a race.
We could be on the verge of a Solar System-wide “gold rush”, it just depends who will be the first to have the vision for such an endeavour.
Thank you Greg for wanting to speak with me, and for preparing a very inspiring interview! Be sure to check out World of Weird Things, there are some very interesting articles and essays, delving into a huge array of topics, each written with a high degree of thought and intellect. A firm favourite on my reading list.
Imagine: You have been selected as one of the first six people to go to Mars and your sole mission is to set up a manned outpost on the Red Planet. Forget the science, forget the long-term goal to spread humanity amongst the planets, your one and only task is to survive. If you live long enough to put your boot print in the Martian regolith, or long enough to eat your first meal, sleep to see your second sol or celebrate your proto-colony’s first home cooked meal, it’s a bonus. You have to survive long enough to give mankind a foothold to begin living on Mars.
Assuming you and your five crew have set up camp. You’ve landed next to all the basic supplies you’ll need for the next few years, plus the equipment to build a sustainable settlement. The pressure of making it through the first day is off. You have a routine, and everyone appears to be doing well. How will you fill your time? No doubt simply living will fill all your waking hours, but humans being humans, you’ll want to make your experience unique, you’ll want to have some fun. Whether it’s taking some time to think about Earth and your family, or it’s taking a hike up the nearest mesa to claim the early Mars World Record of “climbing the highest, ever.”
On writing the Universe Today article Bad News: Interstellar Travel May Remain in Science Fiction yesterday, I couldn’t help but feel depressed. So far, in all my years of science fiction viewing, I have never thought that travelling to another star would be impossible. Although I knew it would be hard, and something we won’t be able to consider for a century or so, I always assumed it could be possible. Well, in a recent meeting of rocket scientists at the Joint Propulsion Conference in Hartford, Connecticut, they concluded that even the most advanced forms of propulsion would require gargantuan quantities of fuel to carry a starship over the few light years to the nearest star. Suddenly I realised I had been looking at the question of interstellar travel in the wrong light; it’s not that it would take a stupid number of generations to get from A to B, we would require 100 times the total energy output of Earth to make it there. Where’s Captain Kirk when you need him… Continue reading “Travelling to Another Star? Unfortunately Starship Fuel Economy Sucks”