If humans could ever land safely on Mars, they would now likely have plenty of oxygen to breathe on the Red Planet. This may be possible thanks to a new plasma-based method developed by scientists, which uses available resources in the Martian atmosphere to produce oxygen. This method could not only allow astronauts to breathe on the planet during future Mars missions, but also help produce fuel, building materials and fertilizers there.
The Martian atmosphere consists mainly of carbon dioxide gas which can be broken down to form oxygen. The atmosphere on the Red Planet, due to its pressure, is also favorable for plasma ignition. Therefore, conditions on Mars are favorable for in-situ oxygen generation through resource utilization by plasma.
Generating oxygen on Mars is not easy and comes with many challenges. Accordingly According to Vasco Guerra of the University of Lisbon, breaking down carbon dioxide molecules to extract oxygen is a difficult process because the molecules are difficult to break. Even if carbon dioxide is broken down, the oxygen produced will contain a mixture of gases such as carbon monoxide and dioxide that must be removed.
“We are looking at these two steps in a holistic way to address both challenges simultaneously. This is where plasmas can help,” said Guerra, who is also the author of the J Study Published in Journal of Applied Physics,
Plasma is the fourth natural state of matter and consists of free-charged particles such as electrons and ions. These electrons are very light and can be easily accelerated to high energies using an electric field. When electrons collide with a carbon dioxide molecule, they can dissociate it, or transfer energy to vibrate it, Guerra explained. “This energy can be largely channeled into the decomposition of carbon dioxide. Moreover, the heat generated in the plasma is also beneficial for dissociation of oxygen,” he added.