Blanket of silica aerogel around Mars could make it more habitable to grow crops

The aerogel can help keep out harmful UV radiation & warm the icy surface of the planet.

Scientists might have found a way to transform the harsh surface of Mars into an oasis that can support vegetation life.

The answer has come in the form of a gel that will cover the ground, protecting plants and crops from the harsh environment and the harmful UV radiation which is present on Mars, while also letting in enough light. Another challenge to farming on Mars is the extreme temperature at night, which crops from Earth cannot survive.

Changing the atmosphere and harsh temperature of the planet to suit human colonies is unrealistic — not unless we have powerful and technologically-advanced machines like the Kryptonians from Man of Steel. However, researchers now claim that silica aerogel can be interwoven with other materials to build structures that provide human beings with protection from radiation.

Aerogel could help alleviate challenges of colonizing Mars. Image: JPL/NASA

Aerogel could help alleviate challenges of colonizing Mars. Image: JPL/NASA

Just a two- to three-centimetre slab of this gel, made mostly of air and silica, can protect plants from harmful radiation, the study suggests. A single layer of this gel can filter out over 60 percent of ultraviolet (UV) radiation and over 99.5 percent of UV-C radiation. Through the greenhouse effect, the aerogel can also raise the temperature of the ground beneath it by ~50 degrees Celsius. This warming may be enough, according to New Scientist, to thaw out ice trapped beneath the surface and start a version of the water cycle.

Researchers from Harvard University, CalTech and the University of Edinburgh recreated the conditions on Mars in a laboratory to test the gel's effectiveness. The findings from the study were published in the journal Nature Astronomy.

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