Mars Colony Threatened By Falling Asteroids And Other Red Planet Dangers

Elon Musk wants to go to Mars and there are several thousand armchair astronomers ready to follow him, but there are several dangers facing an off-world human colony that must be solved first.

Aside from the obvious lack of oxygen and freezing temperatures, any human outpost on Mars would need to protect settlers from falling space rocks, dangerous radiation, and global dust storms.

NASA’s discovery of an underground ice reservoir may pave the way for a Mars colony, but unless engineers can find a way to protect the red planet from an asteroid collision, any long-term settlement is doomed.

The thin atmosphere on Mars means the red planet is constantly being bombarded by falling space rocks. The fleet of NASA spacecraft on and around Mars have tracked about 200 asteroids striking the red planet every year, which makes living there a little risky.

[Image by Aphelleon/Thinkstock]

Impact craters range in size from 7 feet to 486 feet and anyone who lived on the red planet for any length of time would witness a meteor impact, NASA researcher Michael Malin told

“If you were to live on Mars for about 20 years, you would live close enough to one of these events to hear it. So there’d be a big boom and you’d know there was an impact crater.”

NASA has been experimenting with space farming in the hopes of growing crops on the red planet and may even have figured out how to decontaminate Martian soil, but greenhouses will need power and that becomes a problem.

Without a nuclear reactor, Mars settlers would need to rely on solar energy to power their equipment, but the planet’s periodic global dust storms would make that troublesome, Robert Walker points out in Science 2.0.

“Every Martian summer, roughly every two Earth years, you get a higher chance of global dust storms. These can last for weeks, and the light from the sun drops by over 99%.”

[Image by mikolajn/Thinkstock]

Another unsolved danger facing future Martian colonists is dangerous space radiation. The Earth’s magnetic field extends thousands of miles into space and protects those of us on the surface from dangerous radiation and ravaging solar flares, but settlers living on the red planet wouldn’t be so lucky.

Mars lacks a decent magnetic field because its core no longer spins, meaning surface dwellers would need to find protection from dangerous space radiation and ravaging solar storms that can appear out of nowhere.

NASA is working on radiation shielding and biomedical countermeasures to solve the problem, but so far no long-term solution exists, according to NASA engineer Ruthan Lewis.

“The space radiation environment will be a critical consideration for everything in the astronauts’ daily lives, both on the journeys between Earth and Mars and on the surface. You’re constantly being bombarded by some amount of radiation.”

[Image by CreativeGraphicArts/Thinkstock]

Colonists on the red planet would also need to create a new calendar because a day on Mars is about 24.63 hours long compared to Earth’s 23.94 and a year lasts 687 days instead of 365.

Future Mars settlers will also need to contend with the psychological impacts of living in the inhospitable climate on the red planet. Antarctica, the closest environment to Mars here on Earth, has no permanent residents because no one wants to live there and the scientists who visit undergo serious mental stress.

Once brave Earthlings make the transit to Mars, however, there won’t be any turning back; most colonization plans are based around the idea of a one-way trip to the red planet, so early settlers will be stuck without health care.

What do you think about the long-term survivability of a Mars colony?

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