In the NASA article Want to Colonize Mars ? Aerogel Could Help a study about the potential of aerogel as a building material on Mars is reviewed.

In an experiment 2-3 centimeters of silica aerogel allowed simulated Martian sunlight to heat the surface beneath it by up to 65$⁰$ C, enough to raise temperatures on the martian surface and melt water ice.

The aerogel experiment was inspired by the heating process that creates so-called dark spots on the CO$_2$ ice caps during the spring. Like aerogel, the ice is translucent, allowing sunlight to heat the surface below. As the soil warms, CO$_2$ gas accumulates between the ice and the warm surface, causing the ice to rupture.

In april 2011, NASA announced that the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter had found a large, buried deposit of frozen carbon dioxide at the planet's south pole. It has a volume of about 12,000 cubic km and holds up to 80% as much CO$_2$ as today's Martian atmosphere.

Could not a flexible layer of silica aerogel on this deposit dramatically increase the atmospheric pressure on Mars, allowing liquid water to pool on the surface much more easily in lower regions ?

As a consequence of the thickening atmosphere it would get somewhat warmer on Mars, allowing ground water ice to melt on summer days and maybe (who knows ?), even methane to be released, like in the Siberian taiga ?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Do you really hope that adding 80 % CO2, an increase from 100 to 180 % would dramatically increase the atmospheric pressure? An increase from 6 mbar to 10.8 mbar is just a minor change. $\endgroup$
    – Uwe
    Commented Oct 30, 2019 at 15:05
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Uwe The pressure at Gale Crater in 2013 varied from 7 to 9.5 mbar. An increase with 80% would allow liquid water to pool on summer days. Isn't that a big difference ? Added the last sentence to the question. $\endgroup$
    – Cornelis
    Commented Oct 30, 2019 at 15:38
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Liquid water on the surface introduces the ultimate greenhouse gas - water vapor - into the equation. That means higher surface temperatures, more melting, more air pressure. Probably impossible to know how much more, but about a tenfold increase gets us in heavy coats with oxygen masks on the surface, and with significantly reduced radiation risk. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 30, 2019 at 16:01
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The vapor pressure of water at 15 °C is 17 mbar. A carbon dioxide pressure of 17 mbar and above does not prevent water to evaporate, only 17 mbar of partial pressure of water vapor does that. The total pressure would be 17 mbar CO2 and 17 mbar water vapor, that is 34 mbar. The gas would be saturated with water, the relative humidity is 100 %. $\endgroup$
    – Uwe
    Commented Oct 30, 2019 at 18:47
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I remember reading about the "NASAerogel" thing a while ago, I'm glad you brought it up in a question! $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Commented Oct 30, 2019 at 21:20


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.