Abstract: "Four, 100kg fusion warheads, launched from a Mars orbiter, can throw into the air, enough dust to cover Mars' South Polar Cap, darken it, and cause it to sublime through increased solar heating. The added atmospheric pressure will set off a runaway advection effect and partially terraform the planet. We have the warheads and the orbiters. We can start whenever we like."

Is this possible? If it is, current launch vehicles such as f9,delta IV,atlas V could accomplish it.

one issue is the use of an imagined 30kg fusion warhead, using a real warhead, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B61_nuclear_bomb weighing it at 300kg, would be more accurate.

Paper link: http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=

  • $\begingroup$ 300 kg is the weight of the entire bomb, not just the warhead. $\endgroup$
    – Hobbes
    Jul 10, 2016 at 8:18
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    $\begingroup$ Whether it's valid or invalid doesn't matter. This kind of craziness is why NASA has an Office of Planetary Protection and why COSPAR has a Planetary Protection Policy. $\endgroup$ Jul 10, 2016 at 9:39

1 Answer 1


I'm not an expert in any of the topics of the paper, but on a quick read I see it's full of naive assumptions about ratios -- to cover 1/20 the area requires 1/20 the energy release, 6% of cap coverage sublimes the cap in 75 years therefore 60% coverage sublimes it in 7 years, and so forth, culminating in the hilarious warhead weight calculation -- nuclear warhead yields aren't anything remotely like linear with mass. (I love back of the envelope math and scaling assumptions, but I wouldn't go anywhere near these.)

The scheme hinges on a perfectly even distribution of a particular consistent "fluffy" dust structure as a result of bomb detonations, which, absent some experimental results, seems extremely optimistic.

The author describes swapping meters for feet as a "minor metrication error".

I'm not saying the basic conclusion of "a handful of fusion bombs can give Mars a dense atmosphere" is wrong, but the paper as it stands is extremely weak.

  • $\begingroup$ Re: the "minor metrication error", didn't NASA fully convert to the metric system after one of its contractors did its own "minor metrication error" by swapping metres for feet, with one of NASA probes to Mars which resulted in the probe crashing & the loss of lots of money spent on the probe? It seems the author of that paper needs to learn a few things - viz. feet & metres are not interchangeable. $\endgroup$
    – Fred
    Jul 10, 2016 at 5:45

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