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The origin of Superman is fairly well known. A baby is sent to a planet and gains super powers from being in the environment (technically the sun, but I believe you catch the gist). I'd like to make a planet/environment that boosts humans in a similar way. What kind of planetary/environmental features would allow for a normal human to be a "super human" and how super human is that?

The human in question will only be staying a maximum of 5 Earth days (120 hours) and at absolute minimum 3 Earth days (72 hours). By normal human, I really mean Navy Seal level of fitness. Please note that the "powers" or increases in abilities are not intended to be permanent. They are mere side effects of being in the environment. Similar to if you begin jumping on a trampoline, you can jump relatively super high in comparison to jumping on normal earth.

Requirements/Goals (to properly define what "super human" means)

  1. Able to carry or move a larger mass than on earth
  2. Has more endurance/stamina
  3. See better/farther
  4. Able to react to primitive danger faster (primarily for fighting faster and does not require elevated thinking)
  5. Any unique or beneficial ability you can conceive of
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    $\begingroup$ See: John Carter $\endgroup$ – RBarryYoung Jun 27 '18 at 17:42
  • $\begingroup$ As mammals humans have unbelievably sensitive hearing, we also have the best pitching arm in existence and this likely would not have occurred if we had not evolved from climbers. unfortunately for you human are significantly weaker than another animal of the same mass. that is going to make strength a hard one. $\endgroup$ – John Jun 28 '18 at 4:10
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    $\begingroup$ None of the answers mentioned the time issue. If the days are real short (5 minutes) then humans are superhuman for 15 to 25 minutes when pumped up on adrenalin. :-) $\endgroup$ – KalleMP Jun 28 '18 at 7:46
  • $\begingroup$ Unlike most/all answers I read the question as "you are on a special planet for 3-5 days, how can you get more powerful from that (for the rest of your life)?". Whose interpretation is correct? (I believe the answer to my interpretation would be: there is nothing you can realistically do, otherwise we would be already doing it. You can only hand-wave some nanobots or alien organisms that get embedded in your body etc). $\endgroup$ – Zizy Archer Jun 28 '18 at 10:13
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    $\begingroup$ That is actually a myth, other apes have low body fat that's why they have swimming problems, note they can actually swim. humans have altered muscle recruitment, recruiting smaller groups of muscles fibers. Our muscles are measurably weaker, evolutionarily we traded strength for greater endurance and precision. $\endgroup$ – John Jun 28 '18 at 17:15
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Greater endurance/stamina: A thicker atmosphere/higher oxygen levels

Try a thicker atmosphere - or rather, a planet where the humans largely live at higher elevations. Altitude training is useful for athletes on Earth. By training somewhere with a lower partial pressure of oxygen, a person's red blood cell count rises, which helps oxygen intake at lower altitudes. This is especially important in aerobic activities such as long-distance running, where respiration is important (contrast this with anaerobic activities, such as sprinting).

Your Navy Seal is used to living on Earth, where the oxygen levels are lower than this planet. Therefore, he or she has effectively undergone altitude training back at home. The effects of altitude training can last for a week or two, so five days sounds pretty good to me.

It's been suggested that the best altitudes for training are at 1,200 to 2,500 m. This means oxygen levels can decrease by up to 25% of their values at sea level. Therefore, maybe an atmosphere of ~25-30% oxygen would be reasonable (see also below).

Greater strength: Lower surface gravity

Try a planet with a lower surface gravity. The stronger the gravity, the harder it is to do normal things, and the stronger the humans will be - and vice versa, for normal humans. In a lower-gravity environment, the natives will likely be weaker; they won't have had to deal with the (relatively) strong gravity on Earth. Thus, this human will be stronger.

Here's the thing: Planets with lower surface gravities usually have thinner atmospheres thanks to atmospheric escape and other processes (oxygen is depleted by these other processes, not atmospheric escape1), so if your humans live at sea level, or its equivalent, they'd be weaker but would actually experience lower oxygen concentrations. Therefore, we need to mitigate this somehow, possible by having the atmosphere be more like 30% oxygen, rather than 21% oxygen. The relative fraction of oxygen may be higher, but the overall concentration will be lower, and so it will be easier for the Seal to breathe.


1 In particular, dissociation, collisions and non-thermal escape break up oxygen in Earth's atmosphere. Dissociation happens by the reaction $$\text{O}_2^++e^-\to\text{O}+\text{O}+\text{energy}$$ This largely happens in polar regions. Collisions with particles from the solar wind then help oxygen atoms and $\text{O}^+$ ions escape. Reduce this rate somehow - perhaps by increasing the planet's magnetic field, to better shield it from the stellar wind - and you could diminish oxygen loss, and thus perhaps increase oxygen levels over geological timescales.

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  • $\begingroup$ To be clear (as I am a little dense), to "Reduce this rate somehow", from your links are you hinting at a strong magnetic field for my planet? If I read your links correctly a strong magnetic field will prevent the Dissociation from occurring? The e- in the equation is energy from solar winds? $\endgroup$ – Crettig Jun 29 '18 at 15:42
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    $\begingroup$ @Crettig That's maybe partly it, yeah. Another thing is that the solar wind contributes to collisions that energize ions, making it easier for them to escape - I should have been clearer about that. I'll make an edit. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Jun 29 '18 at 15:49
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Everything is relative to the natives of the planet, you don't have to be super-human, you just have to be better than the natives.

I think increased strength and stamina has been covered by the other answers. (gravity and atmospheric O2 or pressure changes) As for your other two points I have some ideas.

Super Vision: This all comes down to what the natives can do, if because of alternate evolution your natives may have a narrower band of "visible light" making your human have super vision. This is very likely if the native star is radiating in different frequencies than Earth's Sun or if the atmosphere absorbs more light (cloud cover, or different atmosphere constituents).

Some materials may appear opaque to the natives but may be translucent in frequencies of human vision allowing x-ray like vision. At the extreme end of the spectrum your natives may be completely blind making sight itself a superpower.

Similarly if the natives atmosphere is hazy in certain frequencies, or if their eyes are smaller or otherwise less accurate; their vision may have a limited effective distance, allowing your human to have super sight to see farther than the natives.

Super Speed/Reflexes: This one is all about time perception. If your aliens have slower metabolic or neural processes, they will literally think and move slower than humans, allowing relatively super fast movement and reflexes. In general colder temperatures will have slower metabolic processes and lower body temperatures in humans have been linked with slower time perception.

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  • $\begingroup$ ALthough for humans vision is unlikely we see a much narrower part of the spectrum than most other vertebrates, with the exception of non-primate mammals who are even worse. As mammals though we have exceptionally good hearing. Mammal have a built in amplifier due to quirk of out evolutionary history, the same sort of quirk that stuck us with shitty vision and only onw set of teeth. $\endgroup$ – John Jun 29 '18 at 3:18
  • $\begingroup$ Depending on a variety of conditions, the native's may all consider "normal vision" to be what on Earth would be "short sighted" - perhaps they used to live in dense forests, or a persistent mist/fog that meant you couldn't see far anyway. This would mean that the Human had comparatively "hawk-like" vision, able to see details over far greater distances. $\endgroup$ – Chronocidal Jun 29 '18 at 11:52
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Put more oxygen in the atmosphere

Hyperoxic training is used to boost performance and recovery for athletes.

Put uppers in the environment

There are plenty of drugs that might be naturally occurring in the air water or food that could make a human perform better for a couple days. Generally these have a price when you come down, but 3-5 days could be fine. Amphetamines and cocaine are currently used this way by many people.

Reduce the gravity

(Like Burroughs' "_ of Mars" series) Muscles are built for some level of effort, if things are easier you can do more.

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Unfortunately, humans have no hidden superpowers. But in some environments they can perform better than on Earth.

  1. Obvious low hanging fruit here is gravity. On a smaller planet, average human can turn into "John Carter of Mars", jumping very high and carrying objects much above his weight.
  2. Another factor is oxygen content - an atmosphere with higher oxygen content will provide more energy, allow people to run faster and farther.
  3. Atmospheric pressure is a small, but noticeable factor in athletes' performance. So in lower pressure people indeed can move faster. Thinner atmosphere can also improve limits of people's vision. Combining 2 and 3 together may result in an atmosphere that is only 50% as dense as normal, but has over 50% oxygen content.
  4. "Doping" in the environment. Atmosphere or water may contain some performance-enhancing substance which people normally have to take deliberately. This is an ambiguous enhancement, but need to mention it anyways.

One big caveat is that in reality people would unlikely to become "John Carters". If native species are biologically similar to humans, they will take the same advantages which an environment can offer. So, "John Carter" should have faced martians who could jump as high as he could.

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  • $\begingroup$ Native species would not be biologically similar to humans w/r/t lung and muscle performance, any more than lowland humans perform as well as Sherpas when climbing. Why would you think they would? $\endgroup$ – lly Jun 29 '18 at 5:10
  • $\begingroup$ @lly I am not sure I got your point. If native species will use the same hemoglobin, same proteins and essentially the same muscle fibers, their performance will be similar. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Jun 29 '18 at 6:52
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    $\begingroup$ @Alexander The "John Carter" effect is basically this: Ever since you were born, you've been strapped down with weights at 50% your body weight. Then, they are taken off - and suddenly you realise that you're stronger than everyone else. Normal Earth living for him was basically an Olympic-level all-day, every-day full body workout for the Martian natives, and he'd been doing it for over 20 years. Think Danny DeVito vs Arnold Schwarzenegger - they both have the same haemoglobin, proteins, and muscle fibers, but will their performance be similar? Of course not! (Danny's a far better actor) $\endgroup$ – Chronocidal Jun 29 '18 at 11:58
  • $\begingroup$ @Chronocidal Interesting. If we compare "John Carter" with an average guy, then yes. But would "John Carter" make martian athletes look puny? I don't think so. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Jun 29 '18 at 15:55
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Avatar scenario.

In the movie, the consciousness of the human traverses space to inhabit a new body prepared for it. This new alien body has abilities that his human one did not. If your human similarly has his consciousness placed in a new body, you can have that body be superpowered in whatever way the story requires.

Virtual scenario

This is like the Matrix, in which human minds inhabit a virtual world. In the virtual world rules are different, and all sorts of powers become possible for the representations of persons within it.

Gulliver scenario.

In Gulliver's Travels, the hero finds himself in possession of superpowers relative to the natives he encounters - to them he has super strength and size (or later on, the opposite). By native standards, typical human properties (speed, strength, size, intelligence) are superpowered.

Accidentally able to use local supertechnology

Thinking again of Thomas Covenant - he finds himself in a strange land in possession of magic powers, this because of the metal of the wedding ring he happened to have on. Your Navy Seal might happen to have implanted tech - maybe a prosthetic leg with an AI joint or an artificial heart. On this new world, his onboard tech causes ancient intelligences present there to recognize him (mistakenly?) as one of the Founders, and so entitled to use the powers and technology which remains there, left by the civilization of the Founders. The current natives of the planet may or may not be aware of the Founders and this ancient tech, but if they are aware they cannot access it like your Navy Seal can.

This one is nice because you can have your dude with his real body, and native princesses the right size for him to romance, and it is not all fake like The Matrix. Also there are good narrative possibilities in the process of your hero figuring out what exactly he can do and why he can do it.

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  • $\begingroup$ The last one reminds me of the book Stargods, though I highly recommend reading the series its series exists in in publication order, starting with The Glass Dragon $\endgroup$ – Draco18s Jun 28 '18 at 1:04
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So your lift force is given by the equation of kilograms x meters per second² (Mass x Acceleration). Weight is derived from this formula where Acceleration is Gravity (9.81 m/s²) and this is the force working against you in a lifting scenario. So on a planet with 1/5 of gravity, a weight will feel like it is 1/5 less, without altering your mass. Since your body can still lift the same weight the mass would need to be increased to make it the same weight it would be on earth. This was actually the original source of Superman's powers... it just was not sufficient for what he did.

There are two things working here. First, if you are 200 lbs on earth than you would be 40 lbs if gravity was 1/5 of earth gravity. This means you are using less energy to move the same amount of mass attached to your body. Another thing you could play around with is that in the animal kingdom, nothing can outpace a human at a distance. In fact, the fastest animal to run an Ultra-Marathon (100 mile race) is the Human. Other traditionally fast animals will tire out long before a human does. This derives from our evolution of pack hunters and use of persistence hunting. Sure... that mammoth might be bigger and stronger and pointer than a human, but it will need to rest before a human does. Humans did not have to best the mammoth at full strength.... they had to chase it until it couldn't run anymore. In effect, we were the Terminators of the Animal world. We were out there. We can't be bargained with. We can't be reasoned with. We did not feel pity, or remorse, or fear! And we absolutely would not stop, ever, until the animal was dinner! We also have a very high pain threshold in for an earth animal and can shrug off some pretty nasty wounds that other animals would go into unrecoverable shock from.

In so far as the animal kingdom, we also have some of the best all around senses of any animal (we take for granted things like smell, but that's because we rely on really damn good vision). Humans also have three color vision, which only a few animals (some turtles) have better than, meaning that we can see visible light in a wider spectrum of color than most animals. Additionally, while we don't have the range of say raptors (Birds of Prey, not Jurassic Park) it should be pointed out that they don't have the best close vision sight in the world.

I have nothing for four, but five we have two rather unique skills among the animal kingdom. First, while we may not be the fastest runners, climbers or swimmers, we can outclass a good number of animals in a two out of three competition. If the predator runs, it cannot swim. If it swims it cannot out climb, etc. Another unique trait of ours is throwing things. It might not seem like a lot but consider the other apes that are our closest relatives. The gorilla or chimpanzee can throw a baseball at a speed of 20 mph on a good day. An average human can throw with a speed of 60 mph... a pro baseball pitcher can easily do + 90-100 mph on a pitch. And from our physics talk we know that the same mass travelling at a different acceleration means it will feel heavier... the same principle applies. Getting hit by a baseball travelling at 20 miles an hour will hurt, but it's nothing compared to a 60 mile an hour (3x hurt) or a 100 mile an hour (5x hurt). And humans are unique in the animal kingdom in this respect. Again, we might not be pointy enough to go against a jungle cat or mammoth, but we can hurt them first. Most animals never anticipate getting hit by a fastball when they attack. Now, sub out that baseball for a rock, and that's really going to put the animal off to attacking... and keeps us safe by getting our injuries in first before we take our own.

And before you dismiss all of that, just remember, a human on human attack (unarmed, just fists and feats, no rocks, guns, knives, what have you) are quite fatal. In fact, they are one of the top five causes of all human homicide.

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    $\begingroup$ "In fact, the fastest animal to run an Ultra-Marathon (100 mile race) is the Human" In fact it is also the only animal who did it, therefore no suprise that Human won. Animals who need to hunt/gather food every day to survive are unlikely to participate a pointless marathon, they know that's better to preserve energy. Moreover it's not fair to compare the human world record (btw, made on purpose, by a specific trained athlete, not by chance) to an average migration speed of an animal group. Do you have any reference for your sentence? I'm interested. $\endgroup$ – theGarz Jun 29 '18 at 12:51
  • $\begingroup$ @theGarz: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Endurance_running_hypothesis Humans are also in Wikipedia's "Fastest Animals" section, citing that they are "fast" in the the sense that they have a very high endurance that allows them to travel greater distances over time compared to other animals. We can keep the same pace of speed for far longer than faster animals. $\endgroup$ – hszmv Jul 2 '18 at 20:12
  • $\begingroup$ thanks for the link, i've learned something new. Anyway, i've looked around on wikipedia and i've found that the world record for the human 100mi ultramarathon is 11.5h. I've also found that equine marathons actually do exist (which in my opinion is borderline to mental illness, but still), for example the Tevis Cup, in which the average winning time is slightly less than 14h. Keep in mind that the horses are veterinary checked several times during the race (losing time) and that they have to carry saddle and humans over not so easy terrain. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tevis_Cup $\endgroup$ – theGarz Jul 3 '18 at 10:46
  • $\begingroup$ Still quite a difference when a human with very little training can complete a marathon in about 1/3rd the time of the very best horses. I'd also recommend reading the real life section of "Humans are Special" article from TVTropes.org. DO NOT CLICK LINKS. YOU WILL NOT BE FOUND AGAIN. $\endgroup$ – hszmv Jul 3 '18 at 16:16
  • $\begingroup$ The average marathon time of non professional runners (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_non-professional_marathon_runners) is 3h 56min, i doubt that the "very best horses" can't do a 42km in less than 12h, and i also object the definition of the requested trainig for a marathon as "very little". Moreover, equal conditions for humans and animals are mandatory to have a fair match. $\endgroup$ – theGarz Jul 4 '18 at 9:42
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Reduce the atmospheric pressure

Actually, the atmosphere has a weight that is always and constantly pushing out to the ground (not confuse with gravity). Our atmosphere is about 101.325 kPa of pressure, that means 101,325 kN/m2 or 10.332 kgf/m2 of pressure in our bodies. Also, the atmosphere has a density (even low) which increase the friction of our body while we are moving.See at the bottom for water boiling point

Increase oxygen levels

If we increased our atmospheric oxygen level we would be able to perform more exhausting task breathing less and tiring us also less.
But, how we can reduce the atmospheric pressure and increase the oxygen level of it? It's very easy: just reduce the pressure while at the same time increase the oxygen percentage. Our atmosphere has 101.325 kPa of pressure (equal to 1 atm and almost 1 bar), reduce the overall atmosphere to only 21-35 kPa of 100% pure oxygen.
Remember that a normal oxygen partial pressure is around 21 kPa, and it must be lower than 50 kPa (oxygen toxicity) but higher than 16 kPa (hypoxia). At higher pressures, fewer you need to breathe.
Side note: a bit of CO2 is also necessary, just a bit to prevent hipocapnia. Also, please see at the bottom for water boiling point

Reduce the surface gravity

It's quite obvious that reducing our gravity (1 G = 9.8 m/s2) will make thing lighter for us. Remember that a lower gravitational force will also decrease the weight of the atmosphere reducing its pressure. However, lower gravitational force can have the risk of releasing the atmosphere.

Calculate atmospheric escape

Basically, your oxygen molecules must not move faster than your escape velocity. I have already done this kind of calculations in this answer but I'll do them again.

So if the RMS (Root-mean-square speed) velocity of the oxygen molecule in the atmosphere is equal or greater than the escape velocity of the planet then that gas will escape rapidly and will be absent.

$$\text{RMS} = \text{v}_{\text{rms}}=\sqrt{\frac{3\times\text{R}\times\text{T}}{\text{M}_{\text{m}}}}$$

  • Where:
    • $\text{Vrms}$ is the root mean square of the speed in meters per second.
    • $\text{Mm}$ is the molar mass of the gas in kilograms per mole. $\text{O}_2 = 0.031998 \text{ kg/mol}$
    • $\text{R}$ is the molar gas constant. $\text{R} = 8.3144598(48)\text{ J}\times\text{mol}^{-1}\times\text{K}^{-1}$
    • $\text{T}$ is the temperature in degrees kelvin (K = °C + 273.15). I'll use 25°C (298.15 K), I think that is the "normal" temperature used in gas calculations where it's specified.

$$v_{rms}=\sqrt{\frac{3\times8.314459848\times273.15}{0.031998}} = 482.096 \text{ m/s}$$

Or simply use this online calculator.

So we already know that our escape velocity must be greater than 482.096 m/s.

Escape velocity

To calculate the escape velocity we could use:

$$\text{v}_\text{e} = \sqrt{\frac{2\times\text{G}\times\text{M}}{\text{r}}} = \sqrt{2\times\text{g}\times\text{r}}$$

Where:

  • $\text{G}$ is the gravitational constant. $\text{G} ≈ 6.67 \times 10^{11} \text{ m}^3 \times \text{kg}^{-1} \times \text{s}^{-2} ≈ 0.0000000000667$
  • $\text{M}$ is the mass of the planet.
  • $\text{r}$ is the radius of the planet in meters.
  • $\text{g}$ is the surface gravity of your planets in meters per second squared

You can calculate the escape velocity either with your mass and radius or with your gravitational acceleration and radius because they can be exchangeable: $$\text{g} = \frac{\text{G}\times\text{M}}{\text{r}^2}$$

I can't tell you your minimal surface gravity to hold oxygen because it's your decision decide how much will be the relation between mass and radius (density) in your planet (small but denser or big but lighter).

Water boiling point

As @Tyler S. Loeper suggest in comments, the reduction of the atmospherical pressure will reduce the boiling point of water. So I'll teach you how to calculate that:

$$\text{T}_\text{ebm} = \frac{\text{T}_\text{ebn} - \text{K}_\text{SY} \times 273.15 \times (\text{P}_\text{n} - \text{P}_\text{m})}{1 + \text{K}_\text{SY} \times (\text{P}_\text{n} - \text{P}_\text{m})}$$

Where:

  • $\text{T}_\text{ebm}$ is the ebullition point of a given atmospherical pressure.
  • $\text{T}_\text{ebn}$ is the ebullition point of normal atmospherical pressure.
  • $\text{K}_\text{SY}$ is the Sidney-Young constant which is $\text{K}_\text{SY} = 0.0012$ for polar sustances (like water) and $\text{K}_\text{SY} = 0.00010$ for non-polar sustances
  • $\text{P}_\text{n}$ and $\text{P}_\text{m}$ are the atmospherical pressures. $\text{P}_\text{n}$ is for the normal atmosphere and $\text{P}_\text{m}$ for the given atmosphere. Both must be in the same measure (mmHg, bar, pascal, atm, etc).

So, using a 100% oxygen atmosphere of 21 kPa and other of 35 kPa (as examples) they would be:

$$\text{T}_\text{ebm} = \frac{100 - 0.0012 \times 273.15 \times (101.325 - 21)}{1 + 0.0012 \times (101.325 - 21)} = 67.19 \text{°C at } 21 \text{kPa}$$ $$\text{T}_\text{ebm} = \frac{100 - 0.0012 \times 273.15 \times (101.325 - 35)}{1 + 0.0012 \times (101.325 - 35)} = 72.49 \text{°C at } 35 \text{kPa}$$

Any of both number would produce a danger in our body (that is because our body isn't at 67.19 °C!)

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    $\begingroup$ It's probably notable that increasing oxygen's partial pressure means you could breathe less often, but it would be painful to do so. When you hold your breath, the chest pain you feel after a bit isn't lack of oxygen at all, it's carbon dioxide buildup (since carbon dioxide in water can form carbonic acid, which hurts). More oxygen doesn't slow that process at all, though less CO2 could slow that a little (but probably not much). $\endgroup$ – Delioth Jun 27 '18 at 19:22
  • $\begingroup$ @Delioth but if we increase the PP of O2 faster (and in more quantity) it will enter oxygen in our body from our lungs, resulting in less frequent breathings per minute. Also, if we reduce (almost eliminate) PP of CO2 we will also get rid of carbon dioxide faster (well, not much because we don't want hipocapnia) $\endgroup$ – Ender Look Jun 27 '18 at 19:51
  • $\begingroup$ While that's true that we would get more oxygen and that would mean we wouldn't need to inhale as much... we would still need to exhale as much (or nearly as much, reducing the PP of CO2) because of that pesky acid. And humans aren't designed in such a way that we can exhale without inhaling or vice versa. $\endgroup$ – Delioth Jun 27 '18 at 20:04
  • $\begingroup$ Atmospheric escape usually isn't the main cause of the loss of oxygen and heavy molecules - it's non-thermal mechanisms like dissociative recombination and collisions (1, 2). The thermal atmospheric escape you're talking about would only be significant for low-mass molecules or high-temperature atmospheres. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Jun 27 '18 at 20:29
  • $\begingroup$ @HDE226868 I know that (I read your post). But if the escape velocity is lower than the RMS of O2 it will escape really quickly, isn't it? So it's also worthy to know about it. Also, your Physic answer (linked in your post) may be very complete, but some of its equations are beyond my understanding of maths ;). $\endgroup$ – Ender Look Jun 27 '18 at 21:56

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