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#1 2005-02-20 09:41:57

Dook
Banned
From: USA
Registered: 2004-01-09
Posts: 1,409

Re: Mars Needs Nitrogen

78% of the earth's atmosphere is nitrogen.  It is a necessary buffer gas and carbon dioxide can't replace it since it is toxic at even low levels. 

Nitrogen comes from organic processes, bird guano mostly.  So I assume that once mars has an atmosphere we will begin to introduce plants but we will need a lot of fertilizer (nitrogen).  Then we could bring in some birds to make the nitrogen.  I'm wondering how sea life would be affected.  Do they need/use nitrogen as well?

If we have a healthy sea life on mars then the birds wouldn't be so dependant on land based plants for food.

Anyone have any ideas?  And please no craziness like "We will go to the asteroids to get it."

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#2 2005-02-20 09:46:47

Grypd
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From: Scotland, Europe
Registered: 2004-06-07
Posts: 1,860

Re: Mars Needs Nitrogen

There is a severe shortage of nitrogen on Mars. And as for bird Guano it is just atmospheric nitrogen concentrated. At one time quano was so expensive a good site for it was actually worth more than a Gold mine.

And since atmospheric quano is not present on Mars where else are you going to get it

big_smile


Chan eil mi aig a bheil ùidh ann an gleidheadh an status quo; Tha mi airson cur às e.

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#3 2005-02-20 11:30:45

Rxke
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From: Belgium
Registered: 2003-11-03
Posts: 3,658

Re: Mars Needs Nitrogen

There's 2.6% atmospheric nitrogen. Not much, but something can be done with this, this would still be many mega-tonnes worth of fertiliser..


ExoMars' launcher's 2nd stage is probably en route to Mars. Unsterilised... yikes

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#4 2005-02-20 18:50:20

Shaun Barrett
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From: Cairns, Queensland, Australia
Registered: 2001-12-28
Posts: 2,843

Re: Mars Needs Nitrogen

Yes, there's enough nitrogen to make fertilizer for indoor plant growth - that shouldn't be a problem.

    But, as far as terraforming is concerned, the lack of nitrogen is very worrying. It may be possible to create a respectable atmosphere using CO2 presently sequestered in the regolith and in the Polar caps (say, 500 millibars worth) but an atmosphere like that will be of limited use. It will make the construction of vast domes feasible by alleviating the mechanical constraints of large internal/external pressure differentials, but it won't make a second Earth out of Mars; we'll be permanent dome-dwellers. (This may not be a bad thing, of course, if you're philosophically disposed toward conserving the vast majority of Mars as a red desert.)
    And, if we manage to re-create lakes, seas, and even an ocean, an atmosphere of almost pure CO2 might gradually dissolve in the water and react with other solutes to form carbonate rocks - unless the water is sufficiently acidic to prevent that reaction occurring. You don't get this problem with inert nitrogen.

    It's often assumed by optimistic terraformers that we'll find huge nitrate beds in the Martian crust. This would presumably supply us with nitrogen at the surface, without the need to import it. But I'm not sure how easy it would be, even if we do find these nitrate beds (big if), to persuade them to give up their nitrogen.
    Any chemists or biologists here who know how to go about such a task? Could we engineer bacteria to ingest the nitrate and excrete nitrogen, for example? And how much nitrate do we need to find to produce a 300 millibar atmosphere out of it?
                                                    ???
[P.S. Have any of our satellites around Mars spotted anything remotely resembling a nitrate bed, yet?]


The word 'aerobics' came about when the gym instructors got together and said: If we're going to charge $10 an hour, we can't call it Jumping Up and Down.   - Rita Rudner

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#5 2005-02-20 21:15:54

Dook
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Re: Mars Needs Nitrogen

Is there any way to send a beam of neutrons into a stream of atoms to maybe hit away the positrons/electrons and convert the atoms to nitrogen?

I know the particle accelerators do this with the intent of learning about the radically short lived particles that make up atoms, not to necessarily change one atom into another.

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#6 2005-02-21 03:25:19

Shaun Barrett
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From: Cairns, Queensland, Australia
Registered: 2001-12-28
Posts: 2,843

Re: Mars Needs Nitrogen

Dook, you're talking about large-scale nuclear alchemy. This concept was explored once upon a time in a book by Sir Arthur C. Clarke.
    He predicted that some future society, in which energy is freely available at virtually no cost, would be transmuting elements at will to create whatever physical commodities are required. In that society, everybody will have whatever they want, whenever they want it. The only thing of value will be knowledge because all of mankind's physical needs will be fulfilled and all material goods will be essentially free.

    While I look forward to this technological Utopia, summed up presciently by John Lennon in the immortal words "Imagine no possessions, I wonder if you can, No need for greed or hunger, A brotherhood of Man", we may need to examine the dearth of nitrogen on Mars in more realistic terms .. at least for now!   smile


The word 'aerobics' came about when the gym instructors got together and said: If we're going to charge $10 an hour, we can't call it Jumping Up and Down.   - Rita Rudner

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#7 2005-02-23 04:45:42

Grypd
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From: Scotland, Europe
Registered: 2004-06-07
Posts: 1,860

Re: Mars Needs Nitrogen

Then it really comes down to if Mars does not have enough we will have to find it and then deliver it.

This is frankly a horrendously expensive proposal but if it is the only choice then it will just have to be. It can be done if it is considered an over time event with Mass packets of nitrogen ice fired to Mars every couple of weeks.

One advantage of crashing regular consignments of nitrogen ice onto Mars will be it will create heat, another bonus for terraforming.


Chan eil mi aig a bheil ùidh ann an gleidheadh an status quo; Tha mi airson cur às e.

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#8 2005-02-23 08:24:06

REB
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From: Houston, Texas
Registered: 2004-04-07
Posts: 555
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Re: Mars Needs Nitrogen

Venus has almost 3 times the Nitrogen that Earth’s atmosphere does. In the process of reengineering Venus atmosphere, huge tankers of its nitrogen could be shipped to Mars. How do you get the Nitrogen off Venus and into the tankers? It may be as simple as dropping long hoses into the atmosphere and sucking it into orbit. You would need hoses built of super strong material (Carbon nano-tubes?)

However you get the atmosphere into orbit, you would need to separate it into its components. Put the carbon dioxide into huge tanks, the nitrogen in another and so on.

Using similar technology, hydrogen could be mined from Saturn’s atmosphere and shipped to Venus. Up in orbit, Venus’ carbon dioxide is separated into carbon and oxygen. The oxygen is combined with Saturn’s hydrogen, to for water, which is stored into tanks.

The leftover carbon could be used to build the tanks and tankers.

If you had thousands of these processing plants in orbit around Venus, you could slowly remove its atmosphere and process it. The nitrogen is shipped to Mars until about half of it has been removed. Most of Venus CO2 has been converted to water, some oxygen and a tiny amount is left alone.

You would reach a point where you would start dumping the processed water and oxygen, along with the CO2 and Nitrogen you are keeping, back into Venus atmosphere.

The technology for this is probably not too far off. We could do most of it now, but the scale and expense of such a project would be daunting.

Venus would still have the issue of having long days and getting too much sunlight. This could be solved with orbital mirrors and shades (Or a ring that does both shade and reflect light). Mars would be habitable. It would still need oxygen, which could come from many sources, including the soil of Mars, or the CO2 in its air.

What we need are robots that can perform the work and be built in space from materials in space. And if they could be built by other robots, then the cost to the Earth would be minimal- it would be the initial robots that go to some asteroid and start building a workforce of robots.

Don’t make them too smart. We don’t want any rebellious robots.


"Run for it? Running's not a plan! Running's what you do, once a plan fails!"  -Earl Bassett

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#9 2005-02-23 08:50:11

clark
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Posts: 6,264

Re: Mars Needs Nitrogen

Hmm, well we don't know the nitrate levels on Mars yet...

Assuming that life was able to form on Mars, and water was present (both liklihoods are gaining greater strength) then martian biological activity would lead to nitrate formation, thus capturing the exsisting nitrogen within the planet.

So imagine, Mars with life, a massive die off for one reason or another, and the exsisting nitrogen atmosphere gets blown away. However, large depoists of nitrates should exsist beneath the surface as the microbes that converted nitrates to N2 died off.

Barring this, question, do we have any means to create N2 on our own? Where did Earth nitrogen originate from?

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#10 2005-02-23 12:34:56

Rxke
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From: Belgium
Registered: 2003-11-03
Posts: 3,658

Re: Mars Needs Nitrogen

RobS, and other planetary geologists, what do you think?

how abundant is N in space, and thus how common or rare would it be on Mars theoretically?
Probably hard to extrapolate from only one planet (Earth) but I'm sure there are some models that predict composition of planetary bodies, no?
if theory predicts sufficient amounts, there should be caches of N2 or more complex forms of N subsurface etc...

Then... denitrification of nitrates by biological agents should be possible (a leetle genetical tweaking of ze bugs, notwithstanding, of course, to make them work harder big_smile )


ExoMars' launcher's 2nd stage is probably en route to Mars. Unsterilised... yikes

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#11 2005-02-23 12:59:32

Earthfirst
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From: Phoenix Arizona
Registered: 2002-09-25
Posts: 343

Re: Mars Needs Nitrogen

You guys realy should study up on the N cycle before you go on and on about it. Their are all ready bacteria that convert N2 to nitrate to other N compounds that plant can use, which we eat and use to make are DNA, Protiens, and many other compounds. It takes large amounts of energy to convert N2 into nitrates because the triple bound has to be broken. But break down of nitrates gives back energy that was used and other bacteria eat nitrates and convert it into N2. It is a complete nateral cycle on the earth. Until we started converting it are selfs. But bacteria could easly break down any from of nirtates into N2 with out any enginering, since they eat the stuff. All that is need is liqued water, warmth and food nitrates. That could take awhile for condition to get that way on Mars.


I love plants!

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#12 2005-02-23 13:06:08

clark
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Posts: 6,264

Re: Mars Needs Nitrogen

Earthfirst teaching us science?! Now I've seen it all.  tongue  big_smile

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#13 2005-02-23 13:13:04

GCNRevenger
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From: Earth
Registered: 2003-10-14
Posts: 6,056

Re: Mars Needs Nitrogen

Even if microbes do exsist that convert nitrates into free elemental nitrogen... well... we would want them to speed things up a little bit. So, some tinkering would be in order, especially for the harsh Martian climate.


"The power of accurate observation is often called cynicism by those that do not have it." - George Bernard Shaw

The glass is at 50% of capacity

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#14 2005-02-23 13:40:29

Rxke
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From: Belgium
Registered: 2003-11-03
Posts: 3,658

Re: Mars Needs Nitrogen

Of course there are already buggiebeasties around that do that (denitrification). I was just pointing out in my crappy caffeinated Engrish that *life* should start the N cycle again... On Mars, by using earth bacteria with (maybe) a little oomph added to their performance...

Deep Green one I am. If I were working at JPL, I'd sneak in at night, after the sterilisation of Marsprobes, to spray them with an interesting mix of spores, green goo and other stuff found in my fridge! big_smile


ExoMars' launcher's 2nd stage is probably en route to Mars. Unsterilised... yikes

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#15 2005-02-23 13:43:53

clark
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Registered: 2001-09-20
Posts: 6,264

Re: Mars Needs Nitrogen

You see, this is just it... I've done some background research, and I haven't found any suitable explanation for Nitrogen generation. I'm talking the very basis of Nitrogen creation.

Our atmosphere is mostly Nitrogen, so where did it all come from? Was it simply here at Earth's creation, or was it transformed from other chemicals?

The reason I ask is I am trying to see if it would be possible simply to produce Nitrogen wholesale on mars without the need to import it. Or is that a dead end?

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#16 2005-02-23 14:04:41

Rxke
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From: Belgium
Registered: 2003-11-03
Posts: 3,658

Re: Mars Needs Nitrogen

You mean N from other elements? Not without exotic nuclear wizardry.

IIRC, the fact there's so much 'free' nitrogen on earth is because of life, bacteria 'cracking' nitrates and releasing N2 which escapes into the atmosphere. Without life, free N2 would react 'out' of the atmosphere into  non-gaseous verbindingen (huh... English please... products/reaction... darn...)

so if N is abundant in the galaxy or our neck of the woods outlying spiral at least, there's bound to be significant stashes of non-gaseous N...
But how much? Could this be guesstimated?


ExoMars' launcher's 2nd stage is probably en route to Mars. Unsterilised... yikes

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#17 2005-02-23 14:35:28

REB
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From: Houston, Texas
Registered: 2004-04-07
Posts: 555
Website

Re: Mars Needs Nitrogen

RobS, and other planetary geologists, what do you think?

how abundant is N in space, and thus how common or rare would it be on Mars theoretically?

It is my understanding that Venus and Earth both have the similar amounts of Nitrogen and Carbon Dioxide. With Venus, it is all in the atmosphere. With the Earth, most of the Carbon Dioxide is locked away in carbonate rocks like limestone (Thank you oceans!) and a nice chunk of Earth’s nitrogen is locked away in Nitrates.

I would think Mars would have started out with a similar ratio. If you take in account that the there is a higher ratio of lighter elements as you get farther from the Sun, then Mars should have started out with a higher percentage of Nitrogen.


"Run for it? Running's not a plan! Running's what you do, once a plan fails!"  -Earl Bassett

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#18 2005-02-23 16:33:01

chat
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From: Ontario Canada
Registered: 2003-10-23
Posts: 371

Re: Mars Needs Nitrogen

Why does mars need more nitrogen?

Are we talking about a fully teraformed mars needs more nitrogen?

The current mars needs no more nitrogen to support colonies, and a fully teraformed mars still wont support plants outdoors with the radiation problems at mars.

So what do we need more nitrogen for on mars?

A warmer mars will probably be more nitrogen rich anyway as  amounts of frozen or locked up nitrogen escape the ice and soil.

The only reason i can see that more nitrogen is needed for mars, is if it was fully teraformed and with a gigantic set of fusion powered magnets on each pole acting as the man made magnetic field.
Then extra nitrogen would be good, but i think we have lots of time before then. smile


The universe isn't being pushed apart faster.
It is being pulled faster towards the clumpy edge.

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#19 2005-02-23 16:45:30

chat
Member
From: Ontario Canada
Registered: 2003-10-23
Posts: 371

Re: Mars Needs Nitrogen

REB,

What if most of the nitrogen on earth came from the moon forming collision?

Maybe the moon forming impactor was a giant k belt object rich in nitrogen and water.

Mars wasn't lucky enough to have a major collision with such an object, and this is why it looks nitrogen deficient.

Tough to guess at what came from where to make all the planets so dissimilar, but the gravity and location of each planet or moon is a key to the final product for sure.

Fun to think about how each one got so different though smile


The universe isn't being pushed apart faster.
It is being pulled faster towards the clumpy edge.

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#20 2005-02-23 18:08:11

Shaun Barrett
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From: Cairns, Queensland, Australia
Registered: 2001-12-28
Posts: 2,843

Re: Mars Needs Nitrogen

Chat's right that we don't need more nitrogen if we're only talking colonies. We only need large quantities of a buffer gas like nitrogen if we're looking to create a breathable atmosphere at some stage in the future.
    We may be able to produce a 200 or 300 millibar oxygen atmosphere on Mars because there's plenty of oxygen available but, at that low pressure, we've been told dessication of our eyes, nasal passages and lungs becomes a problem. It's likely that we'll need about 500 millibars of pressure - ideally 200 millibars partial pressure of O2 and 300 millibars partial pressure of N2.

    Chat, I don't think warming Mars will produce any nitrogen gas on its own. The temperatures on Mars don't get low enough to even liquify nitrogen, let alone freeze it. And everybody talks about CO2 adsorbed onto regolith granules and being released by warming the planet but nobody talks about N2 being similarly adsorbed. It seems that if there's nitrogen on Mars in bulk, it'll have to be in chemically-bound form, which brings us back to nitrates.

    There seems to be little information available anywhere about Earth's nitrate beds and where they came from. As far as I can tell, these beds were created either by nitrogen-fixing bacteria or by the action of lightning on the N2 in the atmosphere, which creates nitrogen compounds. This lack of readily available information about nitrates may stem from a general uncertainty, even among the experts, as to their true origin.
    But the dearth of information about terrestrial nitrates pales into insignificance by comparison with the complete absence of any information about nitrates on Mars!
    People like Dr. Zubrin talk breezily about probable Martian nitrate beds but, to the best of my knowledge, there's no data at all to back up their rhetoric.

    The apparent shortage of nitrogen on Mars is potentially a show-stopper for terraforming and I can't see any realistic prospect of importing it from other planets.
    I'm surprised that this serious nitrogen problem isn't discussed more often than it is.   ???


The word 'aerobics' came about when the gym instructors got together and said: If we're going to charge $10 an hour, we can't call it Jumping Up and Down.   - Rita Rudner

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#21 2005-02-23 18:14:26

Dook
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From: USA
Registered: 2004-01-09
Posts: 1,409

Re: Mars Needs Nitrogen

Are we talking about a fully teraformed mars needs more nitrogen?

The current mars needs no more nitrogen to support colonies, and a fully teraformed mars still wont support plants outdoors with the radiation problems at mars.

So what do we need more nitrogen for on mars?

The only reason i can see that more nitrogen is needed for mars, is if it was fully teraformed and with a gigantic set of fusion powered magnets on each pole acting as the man made magnetic field.
Then extra nitrogen would be good, but i think we have lots of time before then. smile

I don't want to get too far from the original post on nitrogen but mars does have a magnetic field, instruments have detected it.  It's been a while since I've looked at what they found so I don't remember how powerful it is. 

Also a layer of ozone protects against UV rays and would be created by lightning crackling through the atmosphere.  I'm sure we would help this along some.

Mars is farther from the sun so radiation is less and the rest of the atmosphere should protect life on the surface.

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#22 2005-02-23 18:24:20

Grypd
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From: Scotland, Europe
Registered: 2004-06-07
Posts: 1,860

Re: Mars Needs Nitrogen

Then we must consider going to the Gas giants to get our Nitrogen. We allways did plan to do it to collect the helium3 to use as a fusion fuel and going to the outer two was seen as the best option for reasons to do with there lesser gravity wells and reduced background radiation.

But for our purposes Neptune would now be a better choice to go to. Triton one of the Moons of Neptune has volcanic geysers of nitrogen and is thought to have a solid crust of both water ice and nitrogen ice. And with a suface gravity much less than even our Moons it makes for a better source of launching materials by a mass driver.


Chan eil mi aig a bheil ùidh ann an gleidheadh an status quo; Tha mi airson cur às e.

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#23 2005-02-24 01:22:17

karov
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From: Bulgaria
Registered: 2004-06-03
Posts: 953

Re: Mars Needs Nitrogen

Then we must consider going to the Gas giants to get our Nitrogen. We allways did plan to do it to collect the helium3 to use as a fusion fuel and going to the outer two was seen as the best option for reasons to do with there lesser gravity wells and reduced background radiation.

But for our purposes Neptune would now be a better choice to go to. Triton one of the Moons of Neptune has volcanic geysers of nitrogen and is thought to have a solid crust of both water ice and nitrogen ice. And with a suface gravity much less than even our Moons it makes for a better source of launching materials by a mass driver.

Extracting N from any gas giant will need payment of too high delta V. To do so we`ll need non-exisent yet nuclear fusion drives or to harnes with megastructures the natural dynamo of these planets. The comets, Triton and KBOs are too far away... Venus pulls to strong, too, although the mutual supply of volatiles between several simultaneously terraformed planets seems very attractive business. BTW - as I many tims "insisted" - there is potential venusian nitrogen consumer - the planet itseld if we decide to terraform it with 3-4 bars of brethable atmosphere or better - huge rotating tube world made constructionally of the exported carbon from the getting rid of the thick venusian air and filled with the mixture of N2/O2 - giant rotating curved along the planeary orbit. The Venusian atmosphere is enough to provide THOUSANDS o times the living area of the Earth, assuming the Paul Birch`s figures of 40 tonnes carbon per m2 + 10 tonnes of N2/O2 air pr m2...  In Paul Birch momentum exchange loop manner not only the materials can be mined there, but this to be done by utilizing the natural stockpile of gravito-dynamical ebergy in the System... but again needs industrial and constructional infrastructure so huge that dwarfs the entire foreseeable  such base of the mankind in the next millenium.

Narrowing the task to nitrogen mining or Mars the only reasonable sourse, mineable with almost the existing technology is Titan:

- make from asteroid mateial several dozens of thousands km of cevlar or spectra pipe in sections, ship and assemble them at destination. Put the bottom end in the thicker layers of the titan`s atmopsphere. Switch in this end of the pipe powerfull pumps or rocket engines which to blow upwards the full coctail of titan`s atmosphere allong the pipe. This pipe comes through the L3 point of the Saturn-Titan system - the upper end goes much further ( as much as the tensile strenght of the materials allow you), so the centrifugal force at the upper end to be bigger than the gravity at the bottom end. After the gas is hawled up with enough speed to pass the zero-g L3 point, it actually begins to "fall upwards" towards the upper end -- there the gas flux is passed via turbines and excess of electricity is produced to power the bottom end pumps.  Almost classical siphone design!!!

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#24 2005-02-24 05:12:28

chat
Member
From: Ontario Canada
Registered: 2003-10-23
Posts: 371

Re: Mars Needs Nitrogen

Shaun,

You may be right about a warmer mars still having no more nitrogen than it currently does.

I'm speculating that nitrogen is mixed with the ice all over the planet in small quantities.

It will be an amount, but might not be much.

Teraforming mars seems such a waste of resources, if we think of our life styles on earth.

We wake up in the home cave, get into the car dome and drive to the work cave, then get in the car dome to drive back to the home cave.

Most of the time on earth we arnt wandering around outdoors, but we do spend a lot of the other time in the mall dome thinking about going to the vacation cave.

Mars life will be pretty similar, with the only difference being that a walk outdoors will require a special suit, and on earth in northern climates it requires a special suit quite a bit of the time.

Dook,

Only local magnetic fields exist on mars, and they are unreliable.

The current radiation count on mars wont allow anything to exist outdoors other than a few very tough bacteria, and they would need mars much wetter to survive.

Gama rays x rays UV and charged particles tend to go unimpeded right to the Martian surface most of the time.

A teraformed mars without a magnet field would be maybe 5% better at blocking that radiation.

Probably not much need to worry about the nitrogen until the teraforming is a long way along, and not until a man made magnetic field is in place.

If mars has nitrogen beds then mining will be the easy way to get nitrogen, and if its in nitrate form then bacteria will mine it for us.

If neither exist in decent quantities then a grander scheme will need to be looked at.

Seems an awful long list of things to do just so people can enjoy a walk to the work dome. smile


karov,

Wouldn't one nitrogen rich asteroid or comet impacting mars on the pole solve all the problems?

To me this seems to resolve all the Martian climate at once (well other than the radiation problem).


The universe isn't being pushed apart faster.
It is being pulled faster towards the clumpy edge.

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#25 2005-02-24 07:01:17

Shaun Barrett
Member
From: Cairns, Queensland, Australia
Registered: 2001-12-28
Posts: 2,843

Re: Mars Needs Nitrogen

Chat:-

... and a fully teraformed mars still wont support plants outdoors with the radiation problems at mars.

    I don't think this is true.
    Earth's magnetic field is useful for diverting the impact of the solar wind and largely eliminating atmospheric loss due to 'sputtering'. But the vast majority of the radiation shielding we enjoy here on Earth is due to the sheer bulk of our atmosphere.
    A fully terraformed Mars is likely to have a 500 millibar atmosphere, which is equivalent to the pressure experienced by someone at an altitude of 5600m above sea-level here on Earth. However, the oxygen content will be 40% on Mars, whereas it's still only 20% at 5600m on Earth.

    Nevertheless, people have lived for up to 2 years at an altitude of 5950m on Earth [see this site] and: "The highest permanently inhabited town in the world at the present time appears to be La Rinconada, a mining village of over 7000 people in southern Peru at an altitude of up to 5100 m, which has been in existence for over 40 yrs." (5100m is the equivalent of ~530 millibars.)
    The amount of space radiation received by the people of La Rinconada is not substantially less than the amount colonists will get on a fully terraformed Mars, despite the lack of a global magnetic field.
    And, if humans can live in a radiation environment like that, apparently indefinitely, then so can plants - especially plants deliberately bred for those conditions.


The word 'aerobics' came about when the gym instructors got together and said: If we're going to charge $10 an hour, we can't call it Jumping Up and Down.   - Rita Rudner

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