The Falcon Heavy rocket was more than a publicity stunt or brilliant advertising for a car company. Don’t panic, but a warning light is blinking on our Earth ship’s console. Long range sensors show that our atmosphere is leaking away into space. Every day we lose around 90 tons of gasses from our upper atmosphere.
Governments know this. Missions such as ESA’s Cluster fleet have long been investigating this leakage. A prevailing theory holds that the earth’s magnetic field keeps the solar wind from stripping away our atmosphere at an even faster rate than it is disappearing and that we are leaking gasses mostly at the poles where our magnetic shield is weakest. Luckily, our Earth’s atmosphere is massive. That 90 tons per day is a small leak of our five quadrillion (5 × 1015) tons of gasses, but the rate of loss is expected to keep accelerating unless we intervene.
We will eventually need a backup planet or we must learn to survive long term in space. We have some serious challenges coming up. In 1 billion years the Sun will be 10% brighter than now. Extrapolation of existing data shows that the Earth will lose enough hydrogen to space that all surface water, including our oceans will dry up.
The more gas that leaves, the warmer the planet, and in turn, a warmer atmosphere means more lost gasses.
Why? Heat in a volume of gas, by definition, is an increased velocity of atoms in that gas. Even without the solar wind, some fast moving gas ions do reach escape velocity and break away from the earth’s gravity to become space travelers. Lighter atoms are held less by gravity, which is why hydrogen escapes from an atmosphere more easily than carbon dioxide. More CO2, more trapped heat, more hydrogen escaping faster. Make sense?
There is also an ongoing magnetic pole reversal which jumbles our magnetosphere and could result in faster changes.
Take a look at the difference between the earth and Mars in terms of atmosphere. The big difference is that we have an atmosphere and Mars pretty much doesn’t.
This makes Mars much more than a curiosity to study. How fast will the reaction go? Will the Earth inevitably become a dead planet like Mars? Can we restore the magnetosphere of Mars or create an artificial one so it will hold an atmosphere?
The lead suspect in the loss of the Martian atmosphere is the sun, chiefly through its solar wind— a million-miles-per-hour stream of charged particles. A global magnetic field shields Earth’s atmosphere by diverting most of the solar wind around it. But Mars lost its magnetic field billions of years ago, researchers said. So its atmosphere was exposed to the solar wind and probably stripped away.
The sun’s emissions could have stolen the Martian atmosphere in other ways, too, scientists said. For example, solar heating could give some atmospheric atoms enough speed to escape Mars’ gravity and zip off into space.
Other factors could have contributed to the loss of Mars’ atmosphere. Mars has more than 20 ancient craters larger than 600 miles (968 km) across. So it could have been massive impacts that blasted large amounts of the Martian atmosphere into space.
Huge Martian volcanoes that erupted after the impacts, like Olympus Mons, could have replenished the atmosphere by venting massive amounts of gas from the planet’s interior. But without the protection of a magnetic shield, any replacement atmosphere also would have been stripped away by the solar wind, scientists said.
If we can shield Mars, we may also use that technology to save the Earth. Learn what is really going on then do your little bit, whatever you can to help save the oceans.
This is an exciting time in human history, but there is so much fear, anger, ignorance and cynicism. I’ve seen comments about the Falcon Heavy success along the lines of, “Great, now we can go screw up another planet.” My thought on this attitude is that we can evolve or perish and it is those with hope who will make it because fatalists won’t even try.
We have quite a few challenges to human survival coming up, and we may have less time than most of us know. There are large space rocks, for example, only some of which we are tracking, and other threats.
Thinking far ahead, the end result if we survive the gauntlet, it seems to me is that whatever is left of us ends up on a self-sustaining ship of some kind floating forever in a starless expanse of expanded universe.
This leads to the theory some scientists hold that this has already happened, that we are now simulated beings living in a simulation, which is run on that lonely ship, an AI remnant of a long lost humanity. Is it just imagination, the voice saying that whatever we do, the simulation will replay the major events that lead to its existence?
👽 Enjoy the ride.