There are 3 areas of scientific concern here:
Laser Light: How Much Hits Mars?Using 3.5W, 2W ,1W blue &1 W red lasers, with Mars at 40 deg alt in the sky, we were able to rain 7-10 Quadrillion photons per second down onto the surface of Mars. This was at the recent 2020 opposition of Mars (close approach). That’s > 4.5mW [energy-intensity in joules per sec] hitting Mars. So approx 300 Million photons are smashing into Mars per Sq Km ( [‘effective’ surface area’].
Physical/Chemical Effect On MarsJust Google “Terraforming Mars”: Wikipedia also gives a reasonable summary. A constant theme is the early need to increase atmospheric pressure. CO2 sublimation from the poles is described as a means to effect a greenhouse reaction. Water realease would also help. All that is needed is light/heat. Well, at a lesser scale, that is exactly what we are doing… We are applying light/heat to Mars.
Biological effect On MarsScientists still believe there might be very primitive life on Mars. If there is, it is probably photosynthetic and, like some plants, might prefer blue/red laser light to sunlight. Our laser light may also encourage growth of ‘dark plants’ which could enhance any greenhouse effect, plus produce O2. It is also thought that high energy blue-UV light probably first sparked life… So, might we do that for Mars?!
3.5W, 2W & 1W strong blue & red lasers:
<3mm initial beam diameter; divergence 1.5-2.5 mRad, wavelengths 450nm & 650nm
100mW red ‘nano’ laser:
<4mm initial beam diameter; divergence <0.5mRad, wavelength 650nm
So can 300 blue photons per sq m/s actually sublimate CO2 into atmosphere? Yes, these photons carry sufficient energy (see below).
Can these photons provide energy to photosynthetic life? Absolutely, it is a very efficient process of energy transfer.
Could it break chemical bonds and start life?… possibly!
Is it measurable? Yes, if you had a sensitive detector on Mars [this is additional to sunlight and background radiation].
Why did we pick Mars and lasers in order to prove celestial land possession and provoke an update to space laws?
- We think the space laws need updated, mainly to keep us all safe from aggressive weaponization (the existing law, Outer Space Treaty, is losing strength/support and was not strong enough to begin with).
- It has been proposed that there might be enough frozen Carbon dioxide (CO2) on/in/under the surface of Mars to cause an atmospheric greenhouse effect if it were liberated (by sublimation into the atmosphere). It is proposed that this might generate a sufficient atmosphere (non breathable, at least initially) to allow easier/safer habitation and astronaut wearables (no pressure suits), perhaps small lakes of surface water (in summer) and maybe support the growth of O2 producing cyanobacteria. Now in truth, there may not be enough CO2 for all this to happen … but that is still uncertain … and it might still be part of a terra-forming solution. See Elon Musk’s suggestion that we could “NUKE” the Martian poles to do this “the fast way.”
- Strong laser light (targeting Mars from Earth) will liberate some extra C02 (via sublimation) into the Martian atmosphere. Each blue photon carries >10 times the energy required to sublimate one molecule of CO2 (the enthalpy of CO2 sublimation (at -78deg, 1atm) is 25.2 KJ/mol = 4.2 x 10-20J per molecule). Note that Mars has less that 0.01 of Earth’s atm pressure; and a blue photon carries 4.4 x 10-19 J in energy (red photons = approx 3 x 10-19 J). * See the P/T graph below *
- Such an action is physically trivial but is in keeping with the acceptable criteria required to prove ‘actual possession’ of barren land (see international law and private law for case-law examples). Mars may be of high strategic importance (and is, of course, celestial), but it is pretty barren land and existing international law does apply to space. This action (laser applications over 11 years+), together with our strategic/legal/governance plans for the Martian land, does mean that we can correctly claim to be in “actual possession” of the land on Mars. Please visit our legal pages to read more on this matter … and to see how the full realisation of our Mars Land Claim will lead to a timely update to space laws (to help space commerce, keep us safe from weapons and manage debris).
With regard to the use of these lasers:
Earth’s air mass is a significant impediment, especially when Mars is “low in the sky”. Refraction also becomes a significant issue at low angles (more of that further below!) Below 10 deg alt the calculations become unreliable. So we try to laser Mars when it is well above this angle.
The equation used does not discriminate between different wavelengths (hence colors) of light. The air mass (molecules) scatters more blue light photons than longer wavelength red photons (hence blue skies and orange-red sunsets). At low angles (laser light must travel further through air mass) This “Rayleigh Scattering” is significant at low altitudes, hence we routinely deploy powerful red lasers (100mW and 1W) if the target planet is <20deg in the sky. Above this angle we routinely employ strong blue lasers (1W-2W-3.5W). Overall, we have applied most laser applications to Mars when it was/is > 20 degrees and therefore use the strong blue lasers most frequently. So the estimate of 7-10 Quadrillion photons per second smashing into Mars is an average approximation when using red or blue lasers (slight under-estimate for red and slight over estimate for blue).
Because of this issue, from 2017 until early 2019 we used high energy Infra-red lasers (2W PLE-Pro 808nm IR “JetLaser”) with <2mRad beam divergence) for when Mars was low in the sky. This required use of a night-vision IR headset (“Yukon Spartan”). Although we could target Mars effectively, avoid light polution and (less) danger to aircrew, it was a tricky process and difficult to ensure laser protection for the left eye. Nevertheless, we persevered with this whenever Mars was <20deg until sudden laser failure in Feb 2019. Since then we have returned to red and blue visible light lasers (green “EVO” laser only for programmable morse code messaging: “we claim peaceful possession of Planet Mars.”
Note: there is minimal Rayleigh scattering on Mars (v sparse atmosphere), but there is some “Mie Scattering” by dust particles. Red light suffers more deflections but we have not included this factor in our calculations (so our estimates will be further off the mark during one of Mars’ frequent dust storms).
The best performance to date (calculated) was using the 1000 mW blue laser (WL=450nm; divergence = 1.5 mRad) ar Mars opposition in 2020. Each Sq Km of the effective surface area of Mars (the presenting disc) was impacted by 300 million photons per second (300 per square metre per second).
Mars moves through space at nearly 54,000 mph (86,700 kph) so has progressed more than 26000 miles (~43000 km) in 30 minutes. That’s a bit more than 6 times the diameter of Mars. For the purpose of laser targeting, it is the velocity of Mars (speed & direction) which is important. We always check the current orbital position of Mars/Earth. Note that special relativity applies. The velocity of the laser light source (Earths orbital & rotational velocities) does not matter.
Light time from Earth to Mars varies from 3 to 22 minutes. We don’t do very much laser application once the light time exceeds 17-18 minutes. Over 11+ years we have averaged twice weekly applications during nearly 20 weeks/year (we are also keen astronomers, so do study other celestial objects, without firing a laser!). The laser is precisely aligned to the telescope eyepiece (in daylight, the laser dot is carefully aligned with a small object >1.5km distant). We always keep Mars in the centre of high-power field of view (FOV), but depending on the relevant light time (and Mars velocity), we can very slightly adjust the firing position in anticipation of Mars’ progression. The requirement is minimal/none when Mars is close at opposition (3 minutes light time each way) but we must anticipate Mars movement over 30 minutes when the Earth-Mars light-time is 15 minutes. Although our powerful lasers comprise tightly collimated beams, the inevitable divergence is such that even when Mars is close at opposition, the beam width (depending on ‘beam-divergence’ specs) is 10 to 30 times the diameter of Mars! We should not miss our target. If our laser targeting of Mars is accurate then the number of photons impacting Mars is higher than our average predicted (the beam is not in fact uniform – it is more centrally concentrated).
Next issue: refraction. OK, at the outset we can state this: light follows the principle of Helmholtz reciprocity (or reversibility). It would follow the same path in either direction provided the medium(s) and the wavelength/polarization of light used remains the same… so in such circumstances it re-traces its original path. For the most part, that holds reasonably well for our situation … but there are variations that we must accept – the air medium does not absolutely ‘remain the same.’ Yes, the Earths’ atmosphere is not uniform (incoming light effectively curves evermore to the ‘normal’) plus there is movement/turbulence. Nevertheless, we have assumed that reciprocity/reversibility applies. Also, the refractive index is slightly different for different wavelengths. This differential refraction is termed dispersion (see prisms and rainbows) and is more pronounced at low angles. Blue light is more affected than red, so at low angles Mars may appear to have a blue crown and a red base. In such circumstances it is reasonable for us to aim level with the lower pole of Mars when using a red laser at low altitude . Refraction is another good reason for us targeting Mars when it is higher in the sky (>20 deg). Apart from that, refraction does not affect our practical targeting of Mars … other than being another good reason to abandon laser applications when the light time to Mars exceeds 17-18 minutes. Mars varies in apparent diameter from 25 arc-seconds (closest approach) to 3.5 arc seconds. A single arc-second is the size of a US dime (coin) seen from 4 km (2.5 miles)! So ,Earth’s atmospheric changes could lead to significant targeting errors when Mars is especially distant.
So, what happens when powerful laser light reaches the surface of Mars?..
Laser light photons do carry a lot of energy, especially the shorter wavelength blue laser photons. They carry approximately 10 times the energy needed to sublimate (solid to gas) one molecule of CO2. The red photons each carry about 7 times the energy needed.
Vast areas of solid CO2 “dry ice” are found in the polar regions (they recede in the Martian summers, especially in the north), but there are also areas all over the planet which accumulate a frosting of dry ice overnight. It usually sublimates within an hour after dawn. Lower regions within craters also retain dry ice for longer. Such CO2 sublimation is a constant dynamic process (our lasers will ‘add a bit more’). All these dry ice zones (when facing us) are vulnerable to our powerful laser photons. Obviously the resultant effect is physically trivial, but it is definite and represents a tiny but beneficial controlling effect upon the geo-atmosphere of Mars. It is not, we assert, legally trivial (based on existing case-law in Public International law and private law).
Note also: some eminent scientists believe that powerful blue-UV photons may have actually sparked life on Earth. Could they do similar for Mars?
For more info on the science base, please go to the science Q&A section of the FAQ page: FAQs
NOTE: Clearly the most important matter here is the safe and responsible deployment of powerful lasers into the night sky. We have strict standard operating procedures. We strongly advise our growing membership NOT to join in the laser activities. Although this could, arguably, strengthen the claim of factual possession, it brings too much risk. We advise all members to refrain from such actions … instead they must permit the core Mars Register team to safely administer the applicable laser activities on their behalf.
See here for info on this important matter: