The discovery of “plasma” could allow humans to live on Mars

The scientists who made it said a new discovery of plasma could help humans live on Mars.

Scientists hope to build a system that helps support life as well as make the chemicals needed to process fuels, produce building materials, and fertilize plants.

Mars recreation

Many space agencies and experts hope to send humans to live on Mars in the coming years. But the planet is hostile: it does not have the oxygen that humans need, nor the fuel for the machines and equipment they will need to live.

Engineers hope to overcome this with technology that produces oxygen and other materials needed for the years humans hope to spend on the planet. If these problems are not resolved, humanity may not survive on the Red Planet.

NASA is already working on what it calls the On-Site Oxygen Resource Utilization Experiment, which seeks to create resources on Mars. The new discovery complements this approach and may provide an efficient way to produce the necessary molecules.

When engineers strive to produce the oxygen necessary for human life on Mars, they run into problems. But the new discovery can help.

First, it decomposes the carbon dioxide molecules to extract the oxygen. Vasco Guerra, of the University of Lisbon, author of the new article, explains that a molecule is very difficult to break. Secondly, separate the resulting oxygen from a gaseous mixture that also contains, for example, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide. We comprehensively study these two steps to solve both challenges at the same time. This is where plasma can help.”

Plasma is the fourth natural state of matter. It contains freely charged particles, such as ions and electrons, that can be used to help produce oxygen.

“When electrons like lead collide with a carbon dioxide molecule, they can either smash it directly or transfer energy to make it vibrate,” Guerra explains. This energy can be directed, to a large extent, into the decomposition of carbon dioxide. Together with our colleagues from France and the Netherlands, we have experimentally proven the validity of these theories. In addition, the heat generated in the plasma is also useful in the separation of oxygen.”

Scientists suggest that the same system could help break down carbon dioxide molecules to produce green fuels and recycle chemicals, which would also help tackle climate change on Earth.

The new research is described in a paper titled “Plasma for In Situ Resource Use on Mars: Fuel, Life Support, and Agriculture.” [“Plasmas para la utilización de recursos in situ en Marte: combustibles, soporte vital y agricultura”]Posted today in Journal of Applied Physics.

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