Let's say that an advanced civilisation once existed on Mars millions of years ago at a time when water existed in liquid form and that life was abundant on the planet. (Say this civilisation is a Type 1 according to the Kardashev scale)

As the planet approached the lifeless state that it is now, this ancient civilisation decided that it would build a device that would reverse the effects of the planets transformation and revive it into a habitable world.

The device was solidly built and hidden under the surface of Mars and meant to last millions of years. However, due to internal wars over resources, the civilisation collapsed and the device was never activated.

Fast forward to the year 2060 A.D. and a human expedition to Mars has found this device and decided it would activate it.

My question is, what would this device be, how big would it have to be, what would it have to do, and how long would it take, to terraform Mars?

Specific questions:

  • Could this device give Mars a magnetosphere?
  • Could this device alter Mars gravity?
  • Could this device create liquid water oceans on the surface?
  • What other things would this device have to do?
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    $\begingroup$ I can Totally Recall this... $\endgroup$
    – bowlturner
    Jun 4 '15 at 0:02
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    $\begingroup$ Good question! If you want to narrow this to hard science, then you could include that tag. Alternatively, if you wanted it to merely be plausible, then include that tag. Are you interested in reasons why this might not work? $\endgroup$
    – Jim2B
    Jun 4 '15 at 0:04
  • $\begingroup$ The device would have to increase Mars' gravity somehow, since the current level of gravity (38% of Earth's) cannot support the amount of atmosphere required for life. $\endgroup$
    – Ayelis
    Jun 4 '15 at 0:07
  • $\begingroup$ @Ayelis What about a strong magnetosphere? $\endgroup$
    – HDE 226868
    Jun 4 '15 at 0:21
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    $\begingroup$ The real question is, why didn't the Martians terraform Mars? Why'd they make this huge device that melts all the ice in the core and creates an atmosphere on Mars at the push of a button, then just leave it at that? Why did't they push it? And why does a five finger hand work on a four finger activator? $\endgroup$
    – ShemSeger
    Jun 4 '15 at 1:24

Going back to an earlier question about retriggering the Martian magnetosphere, a lot would hinge on melting the core and restarting the planetary dynamo. The easiest way would be to induce a quantity of antimatter into the core to melt it (Antimatter is such handy stuff. I wonder why Home Depot does not stock it...;-)

This helps you in a couple of ways.

a. The molten core will recreate the Martian magnetosphere

b. The heat energy would also trigger whatever plate tectonics existed on Mars, triggering the Tharsis volcanoes and injecting megatons of gasses into the atmosphere.

c. Heat radiating from the ground would melt the Martian permafrost, helping to recreate the Martian hydrosphere

d. You also have geothermal energy available for the colonists for several tens of thousands to millions of years.

The downside is that storing antimatter for long periods of time would require some sort of superscience. The ways we understand containing antimatter (electromagnetic traps of supercooled anti hydrogen) probably won't work for millions of years. You also have to factor in the method of injecting antimatter into a planetary core. Even if the core is solid iron, you could not just dig a tunnel into the core, the static pressure would collapse any conceivable tunnel long before you reached the core.

Finally, if the Martian civilization collapsed due to war, wouldn't one of more of the various warring parties have used the antimatter against their enemies? Weapons of mass destruction exist to protect you against what you see as an existential threat (or avenge yourself against such a threat), so if the war is really to the knife due to competition over the remaining resources, the Kingdom of Helium isn't going to think to long before burning out the Green and Yellow Martians, and certainly would do so before their enemies could do it to them. The surface of Mars would have some very visible signs of antimatter weapons being used, a strong clue to the nature of the device. Certainly no nation or alliance on Earth would dare let anyone have control of such a device today.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ A gram of antimatter is like a strong nuclear bomb. You would probably end up destroying Mars. $\endgroup$
    – Jimmy360
    Jun 4 '15 at 0:40
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    $\begingroup$ The antimatter would vaporize a quantity of the iron, but the nuclear decay of the pions and energy of the escaping gamma rays would be what melts the iron core. Even a gram of antimatter would be insufficient, the core masses many megatonnes of iron, and needs an incredible amount of energy to melt. $\endgroup$
    – Thucydides
    Jun 4 '15 at 0:44
  • $\begingroup$ My guess is the Martian iron core masses something like $ 6 \cdot 10^{22} kg $. Iron $ E_{fusion} = 272 MJ / kg $. So you're talking about needing to add $ 1.6 \cdot 10^{31} J $ of energy to Mars in order to melt the core. Since this is also probably close to the gravitational binding energy of the planet, then if you make one small mistake you'd get a "Mars shattering ka-boom!" $\endgroup$
    – Jim2B
    Jun 4 '15 at 2:53
  • $\begingroup$ @Jim2B, unless if it is done over long periods of time.., giving enough time for the system to stabilize? $\endgroup$ Jun 5 '15 at 3:00
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, and after I did the math I realized you don't need to melt the whole core. I'm not sure how much you need to melt but 1/2 would probably be more than enough. But I still had to put the twist on the Marvin Martian quote in there, just for grins and giggles. $\endgroup$
    – Jim2B
    Jun 5 '15 at 3:33

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