LOS ANGELES - Many threats looming over the future of our planet have people wondering when they can redeem their mileage points for a one-way ticket to Mars and thankfully, scientists may have found a solution to make life happen on Earth's neighboring planet.
In a study published in Nature Astronomy, researchers at Harvard University have found that an insulating material known as silica aerogel could make the surface of Mars more life friendly.
While life may not be possible for the red planet just yet, many ideas have surfaced as to how to terraform the planet, many involving a planetary alteration of biblical proportions, that are just not possible in the "foreseeable future."
Researchers found that a thin layer of the jelly-like ultra-light substance would replicate Earth's greenhouse gas effects on Mars.
Mars is too cold for anything to grow on the surface, and the atmosphere is much too thin to protect the surface from harmful radiation.
The researchers were able to replicate the conditions of Mars and found that a thin layer of the silica aerogel distributed throughout the planet's atmosphere, specifically 2-3 centimeters, would be able to transmit enough visible light for photosynthesis, while blocking harmful ultraviolet radiation.
They believe that this would essentially make the surface of the planet underneath the layer warmer and more habitable by blocking harmful ultraviolet radiation without compromising sunlight's ability to get to the surface, thereby allowing plants to grow and thrive under the insulated shelter.
"This regional approach to making Mars habitable is much more achievable than global atmospheric modification," said the study.
In the study, researchers recreated the surface conditions of Mars by planting layers of silica aerogel where they found that it warmed the surface by as much as 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
"Mars is the most habitable planet in our Solar System besides Earth," said Laura Kerber, Research Scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in an article published on Harvard's website.
But don't pack your bags just yet, because our red neighbor is still extremely hostile for most kinds of life, Kerber says. But, according to Kerber, "a system for creating small islands of habitability would allow us to transform Mars in a controlled and scalable way."