Harvard scientists have discovered how to farm on Mars

New research from Harvard University has discovered a solution to the difficulty of farming on Mars.

Mars receives half the amount of sunlight Earth does but much more UV radiation. 

Its temperature is around -60 degrees Celsius, and the majority of the water available is ice. 

It's not an easy environment to grow anything in - but scientists may have found a solution.

Aerogel sheets work by trapping energy from the sun beneath them, mimicking Earth's greenhouse effect. 

The gel is already used to insulate Mars exploration rovers. 

Researchers say the sheets would warm the ground and melt the ice beneath them, while allowing light through so that plants could photosynthesize. The sheets would also block harmful UV radiation.

"Several ideas for making the Martian surface more habitable have been put forward, but they all involve massive environmental modification that will be well beyond human capability," said scientist Robin Wordsworth in peer reviewed science journal Nature Astronomy.

The aerogel sheets are heralded as a simple alternative.

Aerogel is made of 97 percent air, with the remaining three percent being silica.

By replicating the conditions of Mars in a lab, the team of researchers was able to demonstrate how the gel would keep water in its liquid state and protect anything below it from UV radiation.

The simplicity of the aerogel is appreciated by other scientists too. 

"Silica aerogel is a promising material because its effect is passive," NASA planetary geologist Laura Kerber told Science Alert.

"It wouldn't require large amounts of energy or maintenance of moving parts to keep an area warm over long periods of time."

"A system for creating small islands of habitability would allow us to transform Mars in a controlled and scalable way," she continued.

By only transforming small pockets of Mars's surface, aerogel ensures that if any other life exists on Mars it won't be destroyed by large-scale terra-forming.



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