Terraforming: Wikis


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An artist's conception shows a terraformed Mars in four stages of development.

Terraforming (literally, "Earth-forming") of a planet, moon, or other body is the hypothetical process of deliberately modifying its atmosphere, temperature, surface topography or ecology to be similar to those of Earth to make it habitable by terran organisms.

The term is sometimes erroneously used more generally as a synonym for planetary engineering. The concept of terraforming developed from both science fiction and actual science. The term was coined by Jack Williamson in a science-fiction story ("Collision Orbit") published during 1942 in Astounding Science Fiction,[1] but the concept may pre-date this work.

Based on experiences with Earth, the environment of a planet can be altered deliberately: however the feasibility of creating an unconstrained planetary biosphere that mimics Earth on another planet has yet to be verified. Mars is considered by many to be the most likely candidate for terraformation. Much study has been done concerning the possibility of heating the planet and altering its atmosphere, and NASA has even hosted debates on the subject. Several potential methods of altering the climate of Mars may fall within humanity's technological capabilities, but at present the economic resources required to do so are far beyond that which any government or society is willing to allocate to the purpose. The long timescales and practicality of terraforming are the subject of debate. Other unanswered questions relate to the ethics, logistics, economics, politics, and methodology of altering the environment of an extraterrestrial world.


History of scholarly study

Carl Sagan, an astronomer, proposed the planetary engineering of Venus in a 1961 article published in the journal Science titled, "The Planet Venus."[2] Sagan imagined seeding the atmosphere of Venus with algae, which would convert water, nitrogen and carbon dioxide into organic compounds. As this process removed carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, the greenhouse effect would be reduced until surface temperatures dropped to "comfortable" levels. The resulting carbon, Sagan supposed, would be incinerated by the high surface temperatures of Venus, and thus be sequestered in the form of "graphite or some involatile form of carbon" on the planet's surface.[3] However, later discoveries about the conditions on Venus made this particular approach impossible. One problem is that the clouds of Venus are composed of a highly concentrated sulfuric acid solution. Even if atmospheric algae could thrive in the hostile environment of Venus' upper atmosphere, an even more insurmountable problem is that its atmosphere is simply far too thick—the high atmospheric pressure would result in an "atmosphere of nearly pure molecular oxygen" and cause the planet's surface to be thickly covered in fine graphite powder.[3] This volatile combination could not be sustained through time. Any carbon that was fixed in organic form would be liberated as carbon dioxide again through combustion, "short-circuiting" the terraforming process.[3]

Sagan also visualized making Mars habitable for human life in "Planetary Engineering on Mars," a 1973 article published in the journal Icarus.[4] Three years later, NASA addressed the issue of planetary engineering officially in a study, but used the term "planetary ecosynthesis" instead.[5] The study concluded that it was possible for Mars to support life and be made into a habitable planet. The first conference session on terraforming, then referred to as "Planetary Modeling," was organized that same year.

In March 1979, NASA engineer and author James Oberg organized the "First Terraforming Colloquium," a special session on terraforming held at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Houston. Oberg popularized the terraforming concepts discussed at the colloquium to the general public in his 1981 book, New Earths.[6] Not until 1982 was the word terraforming used in the title of a published journal article. Planetologist Christopher McKay wrote "Terraforming Mars," a paper for the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society.[7] The paper discussed the prospects of a self-regulating Martian biosphere, and McKay's use of the word has since become the preferred term. During 1984, James Lovelock and Michael Allaby published The Greening of Mars.[8] Lovelock's book was one of the first to describe a novel method of warming Mars, where chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) are added to the atmosphere. Motivated by Lovelock's book, biophysicist Robert Haynes worked behind the scenes to promote terraforming, and contributed the word ecopoiesis to its lexicon.

Beginning in 1985, Martyn J. Fogg began publishing several articles on terraforming. He also served as editor for a full issue on terraforming for the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society in 1991. In his 1995 book Terraforming: Engineering Planetary Environments, Fogg proposed the following definitions for different aspects related to terraforming:[9]

  • Planetary Engineering: the application of technology for the purpose of influencing the global properties of a planet.
  • Geoengineering: planetary engineering applied specifically to the Earth. It includes only those macroengineering concepts that deal with the alteration of some global parameter, such as the greenhouse effect, atmospheric composition, insolation or impact flux.
  • Terraforming: a process of planetary engineering, specifically directed at enhancing the capacity of an extraterrestrial planetary environment to support life as we know it. The ultimate achievement in terraforming would be to create an open planetary biosphere emulating all the functions of the biosphere of the Earth, one that would be fully habitable for human beings.
  • Astrophysical Engineering: taken to represent proposed activities, relating to future habitation, that are envisaged to occur on a scale greater than that of "conventional" planetary engineering.

Fogg also devised definitions for candidate planets of varying degrees of human compatibility:[10]

  • Habitable Planet (HP): A world with an environment sufficiently similar to the Earth as to allow comfortable and free human habitation.
  • Biocompatible Planet (BP): A planet possessing the necessary physical parameters for life to flourish on its surface. If initially lifeless, then such a world could host a biosphere of considerable complexity without the need for terraforming.
  • Easily Terraformable Planet (ETP): A planet that might be rendered biocompatible, or possibly habitable, and maintained so by modest planetary engineering techniques and with the limited resources of a starship or robot precursor mission.

Fogg suggests that Mars was a biologically compatible planet in its youth, but is not now in any of these three categories, since it could only be terraformed with greater difficulty.[citation needed] Mars Society founder Robert Zubrin produced a plan for a Mars return mission called Mars Direct that would set up a permanent human presence on Mars and steer efforts towards eventual terraformation.[11]

Requirements for sustaining terrestrial life

An absolute requirement for life is an energy source, but the notion of planetary habitability implies that many other geophysical, geochemical, and astrophysical criteria must be met before the surface of an astronomical body is able to support life. Of particular interest is the set of factors that has sustained complex, multicellular animals in addition to simpler organisms on this planet. Research and theory in this regard is a component of planetary science and the emerging discipline of astrobiology.

In its astrobiology roadmap, NASA has defined the principal habitability criteria as "extended regions of liquid water, conditions favorable for the assembly of complex organic molecules, and energy sources to sustain metabolism."[12]

Preliminary stages of terraforming

Once conditions become more suitable for life, the importation of microbial life could begin.[9] As conditions approach that of Earth, plant life could also be brought in. This would accelerate the production of oxygen, which theoretically would make the planet eventually able to support animal and human life.

Prospective planets

Artist's conception of a terraformed Mars


In many respects, Mars is the most earth-like of all the other planets in our Solar system.[13] Indeed, it is thought that Mars once did have a more Earth-like environment early in its history, with a thicker atmosphere and abundant water that was lost over the course of hundreds of millions of years.[14]

The exact mechanism of this loss is still unclear, though three mechanisms in particular seem likely: First, whenever surface water is present, carbon dioxide reacts with rocks to form carbonates, thus drawing atmosphere off and binding it to the planetary surface. On Earth, this process is counteracted when plate tectonics works to cause volcanic eruptions that vent carbon dioxide back to the atmosphere. On Mars, the lack of such tectonic activity worked to prevent the recycling of gases locked up in sediments.[15]

Second, the lack of a magnetosphere surrounding the entire surface of Mars may have allowed the solar wind to gradually erode the atmosphere.[16] Convection within the core of Mars, which is made mostly of iron,[17] originally generated a magnetic field. However the dynamo ceased to function long ago,[18] and the magnetic field of Mars has largely disappeared, probably due to "... loss of core heat, solidification of most of the core, and/or changes in the mantle convection regime."[19] Mars does still retain a limited magnetosphere that covers approximately 40% of its surface. Rather than uniformly covering and protecting the atmosphere from solar wind, however, the magnetic field takes the form of a collection of smaller, umbrella-shaped fields, mainly clustered together around the planet's southern hemisphere.[20] It is within these regions that chunks of atmosphere are violently "blown away", as astronomer David Brain explains:

The joined fields wrapped themselves around a packet of gas at the top of the Martian atmosphere, forming a magnetic capsule a thousand kilometres wide with ionised air trapped inside... Solar wind pressure caused the capsule to 'pinch off' and it blew away, taking its cargo of air with it.[20]

Finally, between approximately 4.1 and 3.8 billion years ago, asteroid impacts during the Late Heavy Bombardment caused significant changes to the surface environment of objects in our Solar system. The low gravity of Mars suggests that these impacts could have ejected much of the Martian atmosphere into deep space.[21]

Terraforming Mars would entail two major interlaced changes: building the atmosphere and heating it.[22] A thicker atmosphere of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide would trap incoming solar radiation. Because the raised temperature would add greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, the two processes would augment each other.[23]

Artist's conception of a terraformed Venus


Terraforming Venus requires two major changes; removing most of the planet's dense 9 MPa carbon dioxide atmosphere and reducing the planet's 500 °C (773 K) surface temperature. These goals are closely interrelated, since Venus' extreme temperature is thought to be due to the greenhouse effect caused by its dense atmosphere. Sequestering the atmospheric carbon would likely solve the temperature problem as well.

Artist's conception of what the Moon might look like terraformed

Europa (moon)

Europa, a moon of Jupiter, is a potential candidate for terraforming. One advantage to Europa is the presence of liquid water which could be extremely helpful for the introduction of any form of life.[24] The difficulties are numerous; Europa is in the middle of a huge radiation belt around Jupiter,[25] and a human would die from the radiation within ten minutes on the surface. This would require the building of massive radiation deflectors, which is currently impractical. Additionally, this satellite is covered in ice and would have to be heated, and there would need to be a supply of oxygen,[26] though this could, at sufficient energy cost, be manufactured in situ by electrolysis of the copious water available.

Other planets and solar system entities

Other possible candidates for terraformation (possibly only partial or paraterraforming) include Titan, Callisto, Ganymede, Luna (the Moon), and even Mercury, Saturn's moon Enceladus and the dwarf planet Ceres. Most, however, have too little mass and gravity to hold an atmosphere indefinitely (although it is possible, but not certain, that an atmosphere could remain for tens of thousands of years or be replenished as needed). In addition, aside from the Moon and Mercury, most of these worlds are so far from the Sun that adding sufficient heat would be much more difficult than even Mars would be. Terraforming Mercury would present a different series of challenges, but in certain aspects would be easier than terraforming Venus. Though not widely discussed, the possibility of terraforming Mercury's poles has been presented as a potential possibility. Saturn's Titan offers several unique advantages, such as an atmospheric pressure similar to Earth and an abundance of nitrogen and frozen water. Jupiter's Europa, Ganymede and Callisto also have an abundance of water ice.


Also known as the "worldhouse" concept, or domes in smaller versions, paraterraforming involves the construction of a habitable enclosure on a planet which eventually grows to encompass most of the planet's usable area.[27] The enclosure would consist of a transparent roof held one or more kilometers above the surface, pressurized with a breathable atmosphere, and anchored with tension towers and cables at regular intervals. Proponents claim worldhouses can be constructed with technology known since the 1960s. The Biosphere 2 project built a dome on Earth that contained a habitable environment. The project encountered difficulties in construction and operation.

Paraterraforming has several advantages over the traditional approach to terraforming. For example, it provides an immediate payback to investors (assuming a capitalistic financing model); the worldhouse starts out small in area (a domed city for example), but those areas provide habitable space from the start. The paraterraforming approach also allows for a modular approach that can be tailored to the needs of the planet's population, growing only as fast and only in those areas where it is required. Finally, paraterraforming greatly reduces the amount of atmosphere that one would need to add to planets like Mars to provide Earth-like atmospheric pressures. By using a solid envelope in this manner, even bodies which would otherwise be unable to retain an atmosphere at all (such as asteroids) could be given a habitable environment. The environment under an artificial worldhouse roof would also likely be more amenable to artificial manipulation.

It has the disadvantage of requiring massive amounts of construction and maintenance activity. It also would not likely have a completely independent water cycle, as rainfall may be able to develop with a high enough roof, but still probably not efficiently enough for agriculture or a water cycle. The extra cost might be off-set somewhat by automated manufacturing and repair mechanisms. A worldhouse might also be more susceptible to catastrophic failure if a major breach occurred, though this risk might be reduced by compartmentalization and other active safety precautions. Meteor strikes are a particular concern because without any external atmosphere they would reach the surface before burning up.

Ethical issues

There is a philosophical debate within biology and ecology as to whether terraforming other worlds is an ethical endeavor. From the point of view of a cosmocentric ethic, this involves balancing the need for the preservation of human life against the intrinsic value of existing planetary ecologies.[28] On the pro-terraforming side of the argument, there are those like Robert Zubrin, Martyn J. Fogg, Richard L. S. Taylor and the late Carl Sagan who believe that it is humanity's moral obligation to make other worlds suitable for life, as a continuation of the history of life transforming the environments around it on Earth.[29][30] They also point out that Earth would eventually be destroyed if nature takes its course, so that humanity faces a very long-term choice between terraforming other worlds or allowing all terrestrial life to become extinct. Terraforming totally barren planets, it is asserted, is not morally wrong as it does not affect any other life.

Others believe terraforming would be an unethical interference in nature, and that given humanity's past treatment of the Earth, other planets may be better off without human interference. Still others strike a middle ground, such as Christopher McKay, who argues that terraforming is ethically sound only once we have completely assured that an alien planet does not harbor life of its own; but that if it does, while we should not try to reshape the planet to our own use, we should engineer the planet's environment to artificially nurture the alien life and help it thrive and co-evolve, or even co-exist with humans.[31] Even this would be seen as a type of terraforming to the strictest of ecocentrists, whom would say that all life has the right, in its home biosphere, to evolve at its own pace as well as its own direction, free of any outside interference, apparently even when it lacks volition of its own, for evolution is not a personally directed process in non-sapient species.

Economic issues

The initial cost of such projects as planetary terraforming would be gargantuan, and the infrastructure of such an enterprise would have to be built from scratch. Such technology is not yet developed, let alone financially feasible at the moment. John Hickman has pointed out that almost none of the current schemes for terraforming incorporate economic strategies, and most of their models and expectations seem highly optimistic.[32] Access to the vast resources of space may make such projects more economically feasible, though the initial investment required to enable easy access to space will likely be tremendous (see Asteroid mining, solar power satellites, In-Situ Resource Utilization, bootstrapping, space elevator).

Political issues

There are many potential political issues arising from terraforming a planet, such as who gets to own the extraterrestrial land on the new planet, with contenders being national governments, trans-national organizations like the United Nations, corporations or individual settlers themselves. Such settlements may become national disputes as countries try to make portions of other planets part of their own national territory. National pride, rivalries between nations, and the politics of public relations have been a primary motivation for shaping space projects.[33][34]

In popular culture

Terraforming is a common concept in science fiction, ranging from television, movies and novels to video games. The concept of changing a planet for habitation precedes the use of the word 'terraforming', with H. G. Wells describing a reverse-terraforming, where aliens in his story The War of the Worlds change Earth for their own benefit. Also, Olaf Stapledon's Last and First Men (1930) provides the first example in fiction in which Venus is modified, after a long and destructive war with the original inhabitants, who naturally object to the process. Recent works involving terraforming of Mars includes the novels in the Mars trilogy, by Kim Stanley Robinson.

Terraforming has also been explored on television and in feature films, including the "Genesis device", a device developed to quickly terraform barren planets in the Star Trek movie The Wrath of Khan. A similar device exists in the animated feature film Titan A.E. which depicts the eponymous ship Titan, capable of creating a planet, and in the Will Wright game Spore, where the Staff of Life is used to instantly terraform planets. Terraforming is also present in James Cameron's film Aliens, as well as in the cult television series Firefly.


  1. ^ "Science Fiction Citations: terraforming". http://www.jessesword.com/sf/view/125. Retrieved 2006-06-16. 
  2. ^ Sagan, Carl (1961). "The Planet Venus". Science. 
  3. ^ a b c Sagan 1997, pp. 276–7.
  4. ^ Sagan, Carl (1973). "Planetary Engineering on Mars". Icarus 20: 513. doi:10.1016/0019-1035(73)90026-2. 
  5. ^ Averner& MacElroy, 1976
  6. ^ Oberg, James Edward (1981). New Earths: Restructuring Earth and Other Planets. Stackpole Books, Harrisburg, PA. 
  7. ^ McKay, Christopher (1982). "Terraforming Mars". Journal of the British Interplanetary Society. 
  8. ^ Lovelock, James and Allaby, Michael (1984). The Greening of Mars. 
  9. ^ a b Fogg 1995.
  10. ^ Fogg, 1996
  11. ^ "Building a Solid Case". SpaceViews. November 1, 1996. http://www.seds.org/spaceviews/9611/bookrev.html. Retrieved 2006-09-26. 
  12. ^ "Goal 1: Understand the nature and distribution of habitable environments in the Universe". Astrobiology: Roadmap. NASA. http://astrobiology.arc.nasa.gov/roadmap/g1.html. Retrieved 2007-08-11. 
  13. ^ Read and Lewis 2004, p.16; Kargel 2004, pp. 185–6.
  14. ^ Kargel 2004, 99ff
  15. ^ Forget, Costard & Lognonné 2007, pp. 80–1.
  16. ^ Forget, Costard & Lognonné 2007, p. 82.
  17. ^ Dave Jacqué (2003-09-26). "APS X-rays reveal secrets of Mars' core". Argonne National Laboratory. http://www.anl.gov/Media_Center/News/2003/030926mars.htm. Retrieved 2009-06-10. 
  18. ^ Schubert, Turcotte & Olson 2001, p. 692
  19. ^ Carr 2007, p. 318
  20. ^ a b Solar Wind, 2008
  21. ^ Forget, Costard & Lognonné 2007, pp. 80.
  22. ^ Faure & Mensing 2007, p. 252.
  23. ^ Zubrin, Robert M. & McKay, Christopher P. (1997). Technological Requirements for Terraforming Mars. Journal of the British Interplanetary Society, 50, 83. Accessed 2009-06-09.
  24. ^ Brody, Dave (2005). Terraforming: Human Destiny or Hubris?. Ad Astra (National Space Society). Spring 2005. Accessed 2009–06–09.
  25. ^ ScienceDaily (2001, Mar. 29). Jupiter Radiation Belts Harsher Than Expected.
  26. ^ "Humans on Europa: A Plan for Colonies on the Icy Moon". http://www.space.com/missionlaunches/missions/europa_colonies_010606-1.html. Retrieved 2006-04-28. 
  27. ^ Taylor, 1992
  28. ^ MacNiven 1995
  29. ^ Robert Zubrin, The Case for Mars: The Plan to Settle the Red Planet and Why We Must, pp. 248-249, Simon & Schuster/Touchstone, 1996, ISBN 0-684-83550-9
  30. ^ Fogg 2000
  31. ^ Christopher McKay and Robert Zubrin, "Do Indigenous Martian Bacteria have Precedence over Human Exploration?", pp. 177-182, in On to Mars: Colonizing a New World, Apogee Books Space Series, 2002, ISBN 1-896522-90-4
  32. ^ "The Political Economy of Very Large Space Projects". http://www.jetpress.org/volume4/space.htm. Retrieved 2006-04-28. 
  33. ^ "China's Moon Quest Has U.S. Lawmakers Seeking New Space Race". http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=10000080&sid=a5elzidanocM&refer=asia. Retrieved 2006-04-28. 
  34. ^ Thompson 2001 p. 108


  • Averner, M. M. & MacElroy, R. D. (1976). On the Habitability of Mars: An Approach to Planetary Ecosynthesis. NASA SP-414.
  • Carr, Michael H. (2007). "Mars: Surface and interior". in Adams-McFadden, Lucy-Ann; Weissman, Paul Robert; Johnson, Torrence V. Encyclopedia of the solar system. Academic Press. pp. 315–330. ISBN 0120885891. 
  • Dalrymple , G. Brent (2004). Ancient Earth, ancient skies: the age of Earth and its cosmic surroundings. Stanford University Press. ISBN 0804749337
  • Faure, Gunter & Mensing, Teresa M. (2007). Introduction to planetary science: the geological perspective. Springer. ISBN 1402052332.
  • Fogg, Martyn J. (1995). Terraforming: Engineering Planetary Environments. SAE International, Warrendale, PA. ISBN 1560916095. 
  • Fogg, Martyn J. (1996). "A Planet Dweller's Dream". in Schmidt, Stanley; Zubrin, Robert. Islands in the Sky. New York: Wiley. pp. 143–67. 
  • Fogg Martyn J. (2000). The Ethical Dimensions of Space Settlement (pdf format). Space Policy, 16, 205-211. Also presented (1999) at the 50th International Astronautical Congress, Amsterdam (IAA-99-IAA.7.1.07).
  • Forget, François; Costard, François & Lognonné, Philippe (2007). Planet Mars: Story of Another World. Springer. ISBN 0387489258.
  • Kargel, Jeffrey Stuart (2004). Mars: a warmer, wetter planet. Springer. ISBN 1852335688.
  • MacNiven, D. (1995). Environmental Ethics and Planetary Engineering. Journal of the British Interplanetary Society 48:441-44.
  • Knoll, Andrew H. (2008). "Cyanobacteria and earth history". in Herrero, Antonia; Flores, Enrique. The cyanobacteria: molecular biology, genomics, and evolution. Horizon Scientific Press. pp. 1–20. ISBN 1904455158. 
  • McKay Christopher P. & Haynes, Robert H. (1997). Implanting Life on Mars as a Long Term Goal for Mars Exploration, in The Case for Mars IV: Considerations for Sending Humans, ed. Thomas R. Meyer (San Diego, California: American Astronautical Society/Univelt), Pp. 209–15.
  • Read, Peter L.; Lewis, Stephen R. (2004). The Martian climate revisited: atmosphere and environment of a desert planet. Springer. ISBN 354040743X.
  • Sagan, Carl & Druyan, Ann (1997). Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space. Ballantine Books. ISBN 0345376595.
  • Schubert, Gerald ; Turcotte, Donald L.; Olson, Peter (2001). Mantle convection in the earth and planets. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521798361
  • Solar wind ripping chunks off Mars. (November 25, 2008) Cosmos Accessed 6/18/2009.
  • Taylor, Richard L. S. (1992) Paraterraforming – The worldhouse concept. Journal of the British Interplanetary Society, vol. 45, no. 8, pp. 341-352. ISSN 0007-094X
  • Thompson, J. M. T. (2001). Visions of the future: astronomy and Earth science. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521805376.

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Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary




Terraforming n.

  1. terraforming (planetary engineering)

This German entry was created from the translations listed at terraforming. It may be less reliable than other entries, and may be missing parts of speech or additional senses. Please also see Terraforming in the German Wiktionary. This notice will be removed when the entry is checked. (more information) September 2009

Simple English

in four stages of development.]]

Terraforming is a process of taking an inhabitable planet and making it habitable for living organisms. This can be done by adding an atmosphere, heat, and water. Mars is considered by many to be the candidate for terraformation. Much study has been done on the possibility of heating the planet and altering its atmosphere, and NASA has put some input into this idea, but the economic resources to terraform are far to much for any government willing to donate.

Many people say that it is possible to terraform Mars, our Moon, Titan, Callisto,Mercury and dozens of other moons.

Ethical problems

Looking at what we did to this earth, many people think that planets should be left without human interference. Others say that terraforming sounds ethically sound once we know that the planet we are terraforming has no other life of its own, but if it does, while we should not try to reshape the planet to our own use, we should engineer the planet's environment to artificially nurture the alien life and help it thrive and co-evolve, or even co-exist with humans.

Political problems

There are many potential political issues for terraforming a planet, such as who gets to own the terraformed land on the new planet, could it be national governments, organizations like the United Nations, corporations etc. Such settlements may become national disputes as countries try to make portions of other planets part of their own national territory.


  • Oberg, James Edward (1981). New Earths: Restructuring Earth and Other Planets. Stackpole Books, Harrisburg, PA.


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