Ridley Scott's upcoming 'stranded on Mars' science fiction thriller, The Martian, will see Matt Damon take on the inhospitable Red Planet in an attempt to somehow make it back to Earth.
This is certainly a mean feat. Not only is Mars 140,000,000 miles away from Earth, but it has almost precisely developed to be deadly to any plucky Earthlings who fancy a stroll on its surface. Here are six things Matt Damon will have to contend with in The Martian.
1. There Is No Ground Water
Much is made of Mars' former rivers and lakes. It seems the Red Planet was once covered with vast amounts of water - but that was then, not now. Mars is believed to contain traces of water, but all of this is confined to the frozen areas of its poles. If you wanted to fill your water flask anywhere else on the Red Planet, you'd be looking for a very long time.
It's also not just a case of shipping vast amounts of Earthly water to Mars. In its current state, Mars simply cannot support water on its surface. This is due to a process called photodissociation and it's related to the following point.
2. Mars Has a Decreasing Magnetic Field
You're probably wondering what changed on Mars for all its water to disappear? Well, according to experts, the cooling and solidification of Mars' core billions of years ago probably has something to do with it. Planets, such as Earth and Mars, contain a geodynamo around their core which creates a magnetic field. This geodynamo is believed to be made up of conductive liquid iron in the outer core. While Earth's is still liquid, Mars' has slowly been solidifying, decreasing its magnetic field.
This has some serious knock-on affects. Earth's magnetic field is responsible for deflecting cosmic rays, while our atmosphere also deflects UV, gamma and X-ray radiation. Without this magnetic field, cosmic rays will hit any surface water and strip the hydrogen from water molecules, while solar winds will also blow it off the surface of the planet.
Mars' magnetic field could be simulated with an artificial geodynamo made up of molten ferromagnetic materials such as iron, nickel and cobalt, but as you can imagine, this is a massive technological undertaking and is currently only theoretical.
3. Mars Has Low Gravity
The human body, as well as everything else on Earth, has evolved to live in an environment of unchanging gravity. Although we often think our bones and muscles are just mush surrounding a scaffolding, they are both constantly reacting to the pull of the Earth's gravity. Deprived of this force, some strange things begin to happen.
Due to its smaller size, the gravity on Mars is roughly only 38% of the gravity on Earth, this means the human body would soon deteriorate if left on Mars. Bones in particular are vulnerable to changes in gravity and without the need to support the muscles against the heftier pull of the Earth, they would fall prey to osteoporosis. Furthermore, the calcium in our bones would waste away and enter our blood stream, leading to ailments including constipation, renal stones and psychotic depression.
Our hearts too would become lazy. Without the need to pump blood against the force of gravity, they would become de-conditioned and weak, turning fit astronauts into wheezing couch potatoes. Our red blood cell count would fall, leading to anemia.
Then there is also the system of accelerometers in our ears which are designed to inform us about movement and our motor functions. Although not vital to our well-being, lower gravity would play havoc with them, causing us to feel uncomfortable and disorientated.
4. Mars Is Freezing
Although looking like a scorched desert, Mars' average temperature, even on the equator is comparable to some of the coldest places on Earth. Temperatures on Mars can drop to -125 degrees F, while it rarely gets above freezing, even at midday.
Want to check what the weather is currently like on Mars? Well, you can here.
5. Mars' Atmosphere Is Deadly
Perhaps the biggest issue of all is Mars' extremely thin atmosphere, which is around only 1% of the thickness of Earth's. So, although Mars does technically have an atmosphere, it is basically a vacuum. Also, the pressure is so low, your saliva and the moisture in your lungs would boil...meaning even a small tear in your spacesuit would kill you instantly.
Earth's atmosphere protects us from the vast majority of the Sun's radiation. This means anyone wandering around unprotected on the surface of Mars will be bombarded with harmful radiation, causing cancer and burnt skin.
Of course, if you are on the surface unprotected you're probably already dead. Mars' atmosphere is also 95% carbon dioxide, which is poisonous to humans.
6. Massive Dust Storms
Every Martian summer, which comes roughly every two Earth years, brings the likelihood of major dust storms. These are so massive they could cover the entire planet and last for weeks, essentially reducing the amount of light received from the Sun by 99% and plummeting visibility.
Of course, this means any kind of agriculture being developed by colonists on the planet would probably be killed, unless it is protected and provided with artificial light. This might be difficult to power, as solar panels would also be useless.
There's also a chance the dust could be akin to Earthly asbestos and cause injury or death to humans.
Is It Even Worth It?
Of course, technology can feasibly be used to negate many of these issues, and if Mars can be successfully terraformed and an atmosphere established (which is surprisingly simple thanks to the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere), Mars could be made somewhat habitable.
Unfortunately, Matt Damon has only his own wits and simple habitat to support him on the Red Planet in The Martian. However, from the looks of the latest trailer, he compiles all of his super-science powers to send a message to Earth, make Mars habitable and probably (this is a movie after all) get the girl.
All this considered, you're probably thinking there's no point to actually colonizing Mars. Well, although it is vastly different, Mars does also share some similarities with our cozy planet.
Indeed, Mars is probably the most Earth-like planet in our solar system - making it the most viable contender (in fact the only contender) for colonization. If we do want to eventually become a space-faring species, we're probably going to have to go to Mars first.
Firstly, Mars and Earth share a relatively similar atmospheric chemistry (at least compared to other planets), while the Martian atmosphere contains all the elements needed for the respiration of plants. Secondly, Earth and Mars - although of different sizes, have around the same amount of land surface area. Thirdly, Martian days last 1.03 Earth days, meaning the human sleep wake cycle would hardly be impaired by Martian sunrises and sunsets. Mars' axial tilt of 25.19 degrees is very close to Earth's tilt of 23.5, meaning Mars would also feature seasonal changes like on Earth. The only difference here is that a Mars year lasts around two Earth years, meaning seasons would be twice as long.
Lastly, both planets are believed to have frozen water at their poles. Water is essentially oxygen and hydrogen, which means the Martian ice could be used to provide air for colonists to breath, as well as hydrogen to fuel rockets and other technology.
So ultimately, if we do want science to take us to space to inhabit other planets in our system, we're probably going to have to go to Mars first, despite the dangers.
To see how Matt Damon fairs on the Red Planet, make sure to catch The Martian in theaters on October 2nd, 2015.