How Terraforming Will Work


Josh: Josh Clark

Chuck: Charles W. "Chuck" Bryant

Vo: Voiceover Speaker

Vo: Welcome to Stuff You Should Know from HowStuffWorks.com.

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Josh: Hey, and welcome to the podcast. I'm Josh Clark with Charles W. "Chuck" Bryant. Jeri is over there. Chandler is over Chuck's shoulder in the window.

Chuck: Creepy.

Josh: Everything is all weird.

Chuck: I'm hot and you're cold.

Josh: Yeah, I'm cold.

Chuck: One of us is Mars and one of us is Venus.

Josh: Isn't that a book?

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: "Chuck is From Mars, Josh is From Venus."

Chuck: Yeah, it's a bestseller in the podcast cohost segment of Barnes & Noble.

Josh: Are those still around?

Chuck: Yeah, they've got like three books.

Josh: [LAUGHS] In three stores.

Chuck: That one, Click and Clack-by the way, RIP.

Josh: Yeah, RIP.

Chuck: Legend.

Josh: Yeah.

Chuck: Man, that was a sad one.

Josh: Was he Click or Clack?

Chuck: You know, I always got that confused.

Josh: It was Tom, right?

Chuck: I want to say Click, but-

Josh: But it was Tom who died.

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: And his younger brother, Ray, is still around.

Chuck: Yeah. Very sad.

Josh: Yeah.

Chuck: That was a great show, man.

Josh: Yeah, my hat was off to NPR for immediately lowering the flag and making a big deal out of it. I mean, like, it was cool.

Chuck: Yeah. He certainly taught us a thing or two, they did about just-

Josh: Everything we know.

Chuck: Kind of being natural goofs.

Josh: Yeah.

Chuck: Leaving it in everything.

Josh: Exactly.

Chuck: So hats off to you, sir.

Josh: So Chuck, moving along to terraforming.

Chuck: Yes.

Josh: Did you know that a recent study found that even if we instituted a global one child policy, like China, but global, by 2100, which is less than 100 years away now-it's 85 years away, that's not that far-we'd be able to keep the population at about current levels. A lot of people would say the current level is too much as it is.

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: But if we didn't do anything and continued on this pace of growth, we'd hit about 12 billion people by 2100.

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: That is a ton of people.

Chuck: That's a lot of folks.

Josh: That's a lot of stretch on resources for agriculture, for fuel, energy, all that kind of stuff. And it's caused a lot of people, numbers like this, studies like this, it's caused a lot of people to say, "How are we going to support all of these people?"

Chuck: Yeah, did you know a lot of people pooh-pooh that notion?

Josh: Oh yeah, you told me that.

Chuck: I didn't know that. I had no idea. When I did that little video on overpopulation, a lot of people were like, "This is not a problem, this is a conspiracy." Like really?

Josh: Right. There is a definite division between camps. There is the gloom-and-doom camp who say we're screwed, and then there is the other camp who says we'll always technologically advance our way out of trouble like this.

Chuck: Right, sure.

Josh: Is that what you're saying?

Chuck: I don't know what the point was. I think there's a camp that says overpopulation is not an issue like people say it is.

Josh: Well, I think if you redistributed people, it's possible that that could alleviate overpopulation if it is a thing, but I think most people-I can't even say that. Some people would say that agriculture has what's called a carrying capacity, and we've talked about Malthus before, and that we are possibly stretching it right now.

Chuck: Sure.

Josh: So a lot of people, the ones who do believe in the overpopulation problem, are starting to look to the stars and saying, "Hey man, let's figure out how to exploit other planets, too, so the human race can survive."

Chuck: Isn't that what Interstellar is about, that new movie?

Josh: Yeah. And it is totally, I didn't think like, "Oh, Interstellar, this will be timely." The two just happened to coincide.

Chuck: Is it about terraforming, or is it just like, "Hey, go find a place that's hospitable"?

Josh: Well, according to what Michael Caine says in the preview, it's about just going to find a hospitable planet, which is a search that is currently underway and has been for a while, through NASA's Kepler Observatory.

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: They've been looking for exoplanets. And supposedly, right now, there are 1,854 confirmed exoplanets, 4,173 unconfirmed. And all of them are between 10 light years and 25,000 light years from Earth.

Chuck: Pretty far.

Josh: It is. Right now it's prohibitively far.

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: But there are planets out there that exist in what's called the Goldilocks zone, which is they orbit a star, and they're just far enough away from the star that they're not going to burn to a crisp, but they're not so far away that you're going to freeze to death, hence the Goldilocks zone-not too hot, not too cold.

Chuck: Oh, gotcha.

Josh: You got it?

Chuck: That's so cute.

Josh: So that's one thing we could do, we could go find a planet that is readymade for us to live on.

Chuck: Yeah, I doubt that exists, though.

Josh: Yeah. And plus, even if we did find it, like I said, the closets exoplanet that we know of, I think, is about 10 light years away.

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: That means it would take a photon, which travels at the speed of light, 10 years to get there. We can't travel anywhere near the speed of the light, so it might as well not exist.

Chuck: We're not photons.

Josh: No, we're not. So alternately, a lot of people are proposing to take a planet, or a moon, or an asteroid, or something, and turn it into something habitable for us, and that's terraforming.

Chuck: Yeah. Find a nice little fixer-upper planet, go in there and flip it, and move humanity there to ruin it.

Josh: Maybe have a meltdown in front of the cameras, make a couple of stupid things, cliffhangers, boom, you've got yourself a series.

Chuck: That's right. Terraforming, we did a short video about this once, about 100 years ago, where we explained it in 60 seconds.

Josh: We should just try that again.

Chuck: No, not that.

Josh: Just press play and sit back. And we also did one about building a lunar base.

Chuck: Yeah, sure.

Josh: I almost said a lunar base on the Moon, but that's redundant.

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: And that's another idea, is, well, we could just build lunar bases and stuff like that.

Chuck: I think Russia is doing that, right?

Josh: They announced in May or June.

Chuck: They want to build a habitable base up there, right?

Josh: Yeah. They plan to spend several hundred million dollars and put it on the Moon, and just start mining the Moon. They want to get a jump on the rest of humanity, and it's pretty smart. But building a lunar base or building a base anywhere, a floating city on Venus or anything like that, that's not terraforming. That's building a base somewhere, or a floating city somewhere.

Chuck: Yeah, we're talking about changing the atmosphere of a planet, and more.

Josh: Yeah. Which required a substantial about of energy, a lot of foresight, and-and-a tremendous amount of patience.

Chuck: And money.

Josh: Yeah, and money.

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: But I mean if you take money and the amount of time, I would say the amount of time is more depressing than the amount of money you're going to have to sink into it. Because what we're talking about is stuff that's not going to take place until millennia have passed.

Chuck: Yeah, there is all sorts of ranges of how long it might take to terraform a planet, from 1,000 years to 20,000 years.

Josh: Right. I saw 40,000 for Mars, for us to be able to go to Mars and take off a helmet and be like, "Ah."

Chuck: Michio Kaku has a very cheap idea. Have you ever seen his little short videos?

Josh: No.

Chuck: He explains it in 60 seconds.

Josh: What does he-what's his idea?

Chuck: He's like, "There is lots of CO2 under the surface, and all we have to do is heat that up a little bit and jumpstart the process," and then it creates a, what do you call it, a catalytic effect and it just sort of sustains itself.

Josh: Well, let's talk about that.

Chuck: It just needs a jumpstart.

Josh: Yeah. So that's called-what he's talking about is called the standard paradigm, that Mars has enough CO2 on the planet that if, like he says, you could just melt it, it will create an atmosphere that traps heat-you know, we have a problem with CO2 on this planet, which is another reason people say we need to go find another planet-and create a greenhouse effect and that will trap heat, which would melt more CO2, and more and more, and it will just create this cycle.

Chuck: Do there what we don't want to do here.

Josh: Exactly, jumpstart it. Let's talk about Mars, man. You got some time to rap about Mars and why Mars is frequently pointed to as an ideal locale for terraforming?

Chuck: Yeah. If you listen to our April episode on Mars, then you know a lot about Mars, but we're going to recap some of it. Mars is a very cold, dry, dusty place now, but it used to be wet, and warm, and lot more like Earth than a lot of surrounding planets. So they think if we can just get it back to that state, then we've got a good start.

Josh: Probably the key to Mars, more than anything else, that makes it the likeliest candidate for terraforming is that the Martian day is 23.7 hours, I think; it's almost exactly like Earth's day, right?

Chuck: Oh, is it getting shorter?

Josh: Oh no, 24.7 hours, I'm sorry.

Chuck: 24 hours and 37 minutes?

Josh: Something, yes.

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: 0.7 is 37 minutes, isn't it?

Chuck: Sure. I just wanted to give it a relatable angle.

Josh: So it's close, it's very close to the Earth's day. And that indicates that it spins. So if Mars is already spinning, it has a huge leg up over the competition in the terraforming contest.

Chuck: Yes.

Josh: So many, many years ago, Mars was wet, there was volcanic activity, and it was getting bombarded by asteroids.

Chuck: That's right.

Josh: That did two things, Chuck, two huge things for Mars. One, these asteroids were bringing in gases, or compounds, that Mars needed to have an atmosphere, right?

Chuck: That's right.

Josh: It was supplying the planet with it. And then the volcanic activity was taking these compounds and elements that were locked into rock and stuff like that, and recycling them back into the atmosphere, which was sustaining the atmosphere, right?

Chuck: Yeah. Which was great, as long as that was going on, but once those volcanoes stopped-and it was lousy with volcanoes-once they stopped doing their recycling gig, it basically absorbed all that stuff and locked it in the planet.

Josh: Yeah, the same thing would happen here apparently. If we didn't have volcanic activity, what volcanoes do-one of the things they perform is atmospheric recycling, which is taking this stuff that you normally have in the atmosphere that's been absorbed by the soil or by rock, and boiling it, melting the rock and spewing it out as a gas back in the atmosphere. And like you said, when Mars stopped doing that, the recycling process stopped and all of a sudden you just had a static atmosphere that slowly was stripped away.

Chuck: That's right.

Josh: Another part of the problem was Mars cooled at the core, and that means it lost its magnetic field, so the upper atmosphere was not being held in place any longer by the magnetosphere, so the solar winds were just stripping it away. And all of a sudden, Mars had this very thin atmosphere that wasn't-that couldn't trap heat any longer, and the whole planet, like you said, got really dry and really cold like we know it today.

Chuck: That's right. And completely uninhabitable. A couple of other things Mars doesn't have going for it is it's not very close. It's what, like six months away to get there.

Josh: Yeah, I guess.

Chuck: Yeah, I think it's like a six-month trip to get to Mars. And that's a long way to go if you want to make regular trips. Just it's cost-prohibitive.

Josh: Yes, but compared to the Moon, which you can get to lickety-split-

Chuck: Yeah, that's like a weekender.

Josh: -six months, that's pretty distant.

Chuck: Sure.

Josh: But the fact again, the fact that Mars has this history of being able to hold an atmosphere and surface water, two huge factors in a habitable planet, and the fact that there is stuff that's necessary for life, like CO2 and things like that, trapped on the planet already in a frozen form, really just kind of is a bright, flashing neon sign to people saying, "Hey man, come terraform me."

Chuck: That's right.

Josh: We'll talk about some of the steps that you have to take to terraform a planet like Mars, right after this.

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Chuck: Josh?

Josh: Yeah.

Chuck: My stomach is a rumbling, my friend.

Josh: Oh man, I've got just the thing for you, Chuck.

Chuck: Well, because I'm busy and I don't have time to go the grocery store, and I don't have time to cook, but I'm hungry.

Josh: I know, just bear with me.

Chuck: What do I do?

Josh: Blue Apron.

Chuck: Huh?

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Chuck: They're going to work around your schedule and your dietary preferences. Cooking takes about a half an hour, shipping is always free, which is super huge, and the menu always features brand-new recipes-they're never going to send you the same meal twice.

Josh: Yeah, and speaking of recipes, Chuck, you can get things like chicken schnitzel with apple, celery, walnut, and golden beets.

Chuck: I love a good schnitzel.

Josh: Sure.

Chuck: You know which one I like?

Josh: What?

Chuck: That Filipino shrimp with the mustard greens and jasmine rice, so tasty.

Josh: Plus also, Blue Apron has vegetarian options, so they offer things like butternut squash and Brussels sprouts hash, with chestnuts, apple, goat cheese, and crispy sage. When else are you going to make that?

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Chuck: Okay, so Mars is a good, nice, old house that has good bones.

Josh: Oh yeah, that's a great analogy.

Chuck: And we want to restore it to its former moist, wet glory, [LAUGHTER] which sounds really gross. Some people can't even hear the word "moist," you know?

Josh: Yeah.

Chuck: Moist. Moist.

Josh: There's a whole-[LAUGHTER] there's like a-yeah.

Chuck: I don't mind it. So Michio Kaku has the right idea. There are polar icecaps on Mars, which have a lot of CO2, and if you jumpstart those and start to melt them, let's say with solar reflective mirrors, bounce that sun over there that way, that might be a good way to get things started.

Josh: Right. And it's not going to take too terribly much energy to melt those, that sequestered CO2, because carbon dioxide, basically what those polar icecaps are is dry ice, like Mars has dry ice all over it, that's from the atmosphere that was frozen, right?

Chuck: That's right.

Josh: And dry ice sublimates at negative 109 degrees Fahrenheit. So if you can just direct some mirrors at it and just raise it to that temperature, that CO2 is going to go from ice and vaporize into gas, and it's going to float up and hang in that thin atmosphere. And like we said, once you have that CO2 in that thin atmosphere, you have just started this chain reaction that's going to create a cycle where the planet gets warmer and warmer, and the more and more CO2 sublimates and joins the atmosphere, then you have a runaway greenhouse effect. And apparently at the peak, the calculations of the amount of CO2 on Mars says that you would have a surface temperature of about 158 degrees Fahrenheit.

Chuck: Well, that's great.

Josh: Yeah. It's a little hot, but that means water can be sustained. That means that with that atmosphere, the air pressure will be increased, because right now the air pressure on Mars is pretty low, too-I think it's about 1% of sea level here on Earth, which is another challenge.

Chuck: Yeah. Well, maybe once it's that high, we can introduce hyperthermophiles because I know we'll get to Venus, but that's one of the ideas for Venus. And the idea is you want-you can't just plop humans down immediately. What you're going to have to start with is some basic form of life, some kind of bacteria perhaps, that just starts doing its thing and chowing down on CO2 and making oxygen. And pretty soon, like many thousands of years later, humans might be able to live there.

Josh: Right. And one of the-that's almost like the intermediate step. So the first step is to get an atmosphere back on Mars. And to get an atmosphere back on Mars, you take Michio Kaku's mirrors, and melt the polar ice caps.

Chuck: I don't think they were his mirrors, but yeah.

Josh: Right. It's just nice to say his name sometimes. And you melt the polar ice caps of dry ice, and you create this atmosphere, and you allow water to melt onto the surface, and then, you add something like, I think the likeliest candidate is cyanobacteria, which is incorrectly referred to as blue-green algae.

Chuck: Who says that?

Josh: Who says what?

Chuck: Blue-green algae.

Josh: That's the other term for it.

Chuck: Oh, really?

Josh: But it's not an algae, it's a protozoan, I think, or something. Or it's prokaryote, not a eukaryote like algae.

Chuck: Gotcha.

Josh: Man, I feel nerdy right now.

Chuck: It's the oldest fossil on Earth, I mean that's kind of where it all began.

Josh: Right, that's what gave Earth its oxygen, so we're saying, "Hey, why not try the same thing on Mars?" We've got a bunch of CO2 on Mars, a runaway greenhouse effect, well, it just so happens that cyanobacteria eats CO2. And, not only does it eat CO2, it coverts that stuff into oxygen as a waste product. So, all of sudden, you have something, a living organism, on Mars that's converting the atmosphere into something breathable for us humans here on Earth. The problem is that you have to have water present for cyanobacteria to live.

Chuck: But you're going to have that water because you've melted the icecaps.

Josh: You've melted the icecaps to get the CO2 released, which is negative 109. You need to raise the temperature to at least 32 degrees to start melting the water, which requires even more energy. Where are you going to get that?

Chuck: Well, you're not going to introduce any cyanobacteria until you have that water. That's the first goal; you can't have life without water.

Josh: Exactly. But once you do get the water going-which again you could use orbital mirrors, but you just have to concentrate them a little more to reflect more energy into a tighter spot. You've got the cyanobacteria chomping away at the CO2, it's producing oxygen. Some conservative estimates that I've seen are once you have the oceans or the surface water on Mars, which staggeringly to me, we could do in a couple hundred years supposedly?

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: That's nuts, man. Think about that, like Mars could be turned from a desert into a place with surface water in a couple hundred years.

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: That's not that far away.

Chuck: It's not.

Josh: But after that, it would take about 40,000 years for enough oxygen to be introduced in the atmosphere for a human to possibly walk around on Mars.

Chuck: Yeah, this is why it's so farfetched to me. It's science fiction.

Josh: It is a farfetched, but if you take a long view of humanity, and say, "Yeah, I mean, there is no reason." What was it, man, in the extinction episode? How long does the average species last? Wasn't it like 10 million years?

Chuck: I don't know.

Josh: Well, say it is even one million years, that means humans will be around, supposedly-

Chuck: I'd be surprised.

Josh: -well beyond 40,000 years. So we need to be thinking in these terms because there is no way Earth is going to last another 40,000 years for us.

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: Unless we just radically reengineer ourselves.

Chuck: Yeah. I never thought of myself as a doom-and-gloomer, but I must be because I don't know if humans will be around in 40,000 years. I guess we'll see.

Josh: Yeah.

Chuck: Or we won't see but-[LAUGHS]

Josh: But I mean technically, it should only take an existential catastrophe to get rid of humans. Like we shouldn't just necessarily die off as a species, it should take something like a physics experiment gone awry, or a nuclear war, or a biochemical attack, something like that.

Chuck: Yeah, man will do it.

Josh: Yes, it would be a self-injury probably.

Chuck: Yeah, suicide.

Josh: I guess.

Chuck: Well, not suicide, murder. Murder humanity.

Josh: Yeah. So then there's two other things, and there is a guy named Martyn Fogg who wrote a book called Terraforming: Engineering Planetary Environments, and he basically laid out what you have to do to get Mars going. And again, Mars is the easiest one to do because it has that planetary rotation already. But additionally, there is two other things you have to handle. One is the atmospheric pressure. So apparently, even at best, Mars would-it'd be a lot like existing on a mountaintop here on Earth. The air would be thin.

Chuck: You'd be living on the top of Mount Everest.

Josh: Kind of.

Chuck: You'd have to bring your own oxygen.

Josh: You would. So, like, but maybe Tibetans and Ethiopian highlanders would make great early inhabitants of a terraformed Mars because they're already used to that kind of thing.

Chuck: Sherpa.

Josh: Exactly. The other thing is you need nitrogen. Nitrogen is vital to life and the atmosphere.

Chuck: Yeah, and there is not much nitrogen on Mars.

Josh: No. So they're saying, "Well, then all you have to do is start directing comets," ammonia-based iceteroids I think is what they call them.

Chuck: Yeah, because I don't know if everyone knows this, comets are, I think one of the articles likened it to giant snowballs. And if you sent a comet and exploded it before it hit the planet, it in theory would send ice everywhere, which would be pretty cool. But you'd need a lot of comets.

Josh: You would.

Chuck: It's not just like one comet and you're done.

Josh: No, one and done doesn't apply to terraforming.

Chuck: And we have to figure out how to steer these comets that way.

Josh: Which apparently is not-I mean, using astrophysics I guess, it's not out of the realm of possibility to steer a comet-

Chuck: No, no, it's not out of the realm.

Josh: -and then hit it with a nuclear device to blow it up so that it explodes into shards and then rains down on Mars.

Chuck: A lot of things could wrong, though.

Josh: Yeah. [LAUGHTER]

Chuck: It's fraught with complications.

Josh: Steering comets. But it is a viable way to introduce nitrogen to Mars, and it should, ideally, stick around, especially once you have an atmosphere.

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: So that's Mars. It's probably the way we're going to go, keep an eye out, because in a couple of centuries there'll probably be some seas on Mars.

Chuck: Yeah. And I think that guy that you mentioned, too, says even if we do manage to do this, it's going to be a constant process of reintroducing these elements, these volatile elements to keep that atmosphere going. I don't know if Michio Kaku is right, if it would ever self-sustain.

Josh: Well, it could if you do that standard paradigm of creating a runaway greenhouse effect.

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: What Martyn Fogg is saying is, "Why would you want to do that? Because then you have a greenhouse effect that you have to deal with."

Chuck: Well, that's what I was wondering. Yeah, then you have to rein that in.

Josh: Exactly. He takes a longer view of just slowly introducing stuff again and again to create this Martian atmosphere over a longer period, but in a more granular way.

Chuck: Right, right.

Josh: Like more directed than just creating a runaway greenhouse effect.

Chuck: That makes more sense, a little more focused.

Josh: Right. So we'll talk about some of Mars's rivals for the terraforming game, right after this.

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Josh: Yes.

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Chuck: So I guess I'm Venus since I'm always hot, because Venus is a very hot place. It's very unlike Mars, but some people say Venus has a few things going for it, namely it's super close; it's the closest planet to us. We have similar, almost-well, not identical, but very similar size and mass, and a very thick atmosphere just like Earth does. So there is a lot of similarities there, but you're sort of working in the opposite direction of Mars, is you've got to cool Venus down a lot, and there is lots of wacky ideas on how to do that. One of which is, what would you do if you were hot? Put up a big shade.

Josh: Yeah, like one of those little umbrellas in a Tiki drink.

Chuck: Yeah, just a giant one.

Josh: Yes. Basically the idea is to block all sunlight from Venus and cool it. And apparently in about 100 years, Venus's atmosphere, which is pretty substantial like you said, and almost all CO2 would freeze and fall to the surface.

Chuck: Well, there is also a lot of sulfuric acid.

Josh: There is.

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: But this atmosphere would freeze and create a surface layer, just like on Mars, like how the CO2 is locked in the polar ice caps, it'd be doing the same thing with Venus. Then you would have to go in and deal with this frozen atmosphere, which is kind of a thing. But you would use it to your advantage, Chuck, because the leg up, like I said, that Mars has over Venus is that the Martian day is about 24 hours long, right?

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: Well, the Venusian day is about 160 days long-

Chuck: Yeah, that's a problem.

Josh: -which means it rotates way too slowly for us, to be habitable for us. So if you take this atmosphere, and you freeze it, and you create this frozen hulk of a planet, you could actually make it spin faster if you can blow the atmosphere off into space in a directed manner.

Chuck: Yeah, and actually in-show correction, that's a 116 days is the length of their day.

Josh: Gotcha, 116 Earth days, right?

Chuck: Earth days, yeah, there you go. Not 160. But I think anything over 100, you just call a big problem.

Josh: Yeah, it's too long.

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: So if you can figure out how to blow the atmosphere, the now frozen atmosphere off of Venus in the direction that it's already rotating, you could conceivably speed up the rotation of Venus.

Chuck: Yeah. One of the other problems with Venus is that there is no water, and as everyone knows, like we said, you need water for life. But then we come back to our comet idea of driving these comets and exploding them and creating water that way. And then the hyperthermophiles, which I mentioned earlier, are these organisms that can thrive in really hot temperatures.

Josh: And we're talking really hot; I think the surface temperature of Venus is something like 800 degrees Fahrenheit-872, which is 467 degrees Celsius.

Chuck: Yeah. The problem is, we haven't found anything on Earth, any hyperthermophiles that can handle that kind of temperature and pressure, yet, but they think they exist.

Josh: Yeah, did you mention the pressure of the atmosphere on Venus? It's 200 times the pressure at sea level here on Earth.

Chuck: It's a problem as well.

Josh: But if you could find a hyperthermophile that could sustain that, and ate sulfur, and then-

Chuck: Yeah. Which they do, though.

Josh: Yeah, because I think some of them are by thermal vents underwater, right?

Chuck: Yeah, we know they eat sulfur, we just haven't found any that can sustain that kind of heat and pressure yet.

Josh: There is only one way to find out and that's to launch them toward Venus and see what happens. Basically infect the planet is what you're talking about?

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: So the problem with all of this is to freeze Venus, it's going to require a lot of energy, to reflect all the light from the surface. To spit the frozen atmosphere out into space is going to require even more. Basically it would require the amount of energy that the Sun puts out in an entire year.

Chuck: That's crazy.

Josh: It is crazy. It is crazy now. But have you ever heard of the Kardashev scale?

Chuck: Sure.

Josh: So then you know there is Type I, Type II, and Type III civilizations. And a Type I civilization uses all of the available energy from the star. So all of this energy that hits the Earth normally from the Sun, if you could harness all that, you'd be a Type I civilization. We're not even there yet. A Type II civilization could harness all of the energy that's created at the star, not just the stuff that makes it to your planet. And if you could harness that, if you were a Type II civilization, you could be doing this kind of terraforming no problem.

Chuck: No sweat.

Josh: No sweat, man. But I mean if you think about it, if you have a couple of leaps forward in understanding, a couple of geniuses are born and live and advance human understanding over the course of a few generations, you could conceivably hit something like that in 100 years.

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: So I mean it's not out of the realm of possibility that we could be doing stuff like this 100, 200 years from now.

Chuck: Yeah. Venus, another idea they have instead of these huge, giant shade sails would be to have a big, floating, pressurized, geodesic sphere city, that people basically would use the atmosphere because the atmosphere is okay, above the sulfuric acid that is, but that would provide shade. And then eventually it would cool the planet down enough just by creating a shadow.

Josh: They'd be simultaneously sucking the CO2 out of the atmosphere and breaking it down into carbon and oxygen, as well, supposedly, so it'd be doing like two things at once.

Chuck: Not a bad idea.

Josh: Yeah, not at all.

Chuck: It sounds efficient, a little more efficient.

Josh: And apparently if you pressurized like an indoor city or something like that, a floating city, and put it into Venus's atmosphere, it would naturally float in the atmosphere, it would stay put.

Chuck: Yeah, I think that was the same for the solar mirror wouldn't have to be attached to anything either, off of Mars.

Josh: Yeah.

Chuck: I think it would just be held in place by, I think gravity and, what, solar-

Josh: Bubblegum.

Chuck: [LAUGHS] Bubblegum?

Josh: Yeah. And then of course, Chuck, there is the Moon.

Chuck: Boo.

Josh: It seems pretty unlikely. The one thing that the Moon has going for it is its proximity basically.

Chuck: Yeah. Basically, it's like the Moon is close, it's small, so you're not going to have to spend a lot of money getting there, and because it's small you're not going to spend a ton of money fixing it up.

Josh: It's the budget terraforming idea.

Chuck: I guess the Russians will already be living there at this point. I don't know if the Moon is very viable, though.

Josh: Well, you'd have to, again, bombard it with something to get it to spin faster, because right now its day is 28 Earth days, right?

Chuck: Yeah, they said like 100 comets at least.

Josh: About the size of Halley's Comet.

Chuck: Yeah, to get it just spinning a bit faster and perhaps knock it off its axis a bit and give it seasons, which would be nice, like we have here on Earth.

Josh: My money is on Mars. It's got everything you need except for nitrogen, and that you can just deliver however you like.

Chuck: I kind of like the shell idea that you sent along. Ken Roy, he is an engineer who basically says, "Why don't we just encase a small planet in a huge shell made of Kevlar and steel and dirt, and just create a huge geodesic dome around a planet?"

Josh: I guess the question is, where are you going to get all that dirt?

Chuck: I don't know.

Josh: Because that's an essential ingredient.

Chuck: Is it mostly dirt?

Josh: You encase it in dirt, then you create an atmosphere between the shell and the dirt.

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: Where is all that dirt coming from?

Chuck: Adobe. [LAUGHTER]

Josh: I guess.

Chuck: Adobe sphere.

Josh: Yeah.

Chuck: I don't know, I think that's a pretty neat idea. It'd be-

Josh: I do too.

Chuck: It would be all artificial, you'd have to have artificial light because you're inside a dome, and apparently it would have airlocks and stuff to account for the vacuum.

Josh: Yeah.

Chuck: I don't know about that, though; that sounds like science fiction.

Josh: And, he was saying the atmosphere would be just thin enough, or gravity would be just light enough so that humans could fly around.

Chuck: [LAUGHS]

Josh: I swear to God, he added that.

Chuck: No, no, I saw that.

Josh: Yeah. He's like, "Just to sweeten the pot a little more."

Chuck: Yeah, to make it that much more cool.

Josh: "You'll be able to fly." So anyway, we'll eventually ruin this planet and need something. Hopefully we'll have had the foresight to have started terraforming, in time.

Chuck: Yeah. Well, they're already working on it.

Josh: Are they?

Chuck: Well, I mean-

Josh: I know people are talking about it.

Chuck: Proposing ideas, theoretical ideas, I don't think they're building-

Josh: They should be.

Chuck: -the asteroid slinger.

Josh: They should have started in the 19th century.

Chuck: [LAUGHS] They're building a comet sling in Texas, as we speak.

Josh: Yeah. If you want to know more about terraforming, you can type that word in the search bar at HowStuffWorks.com. And since I said search bar, it's time for, Chuck, a very special edition, Thanksgiving edition of [ECHO EFFECT] administrative details. [BELLS]

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Chuck: That's right. We are here to say thanks because it's around Thanksgiving because-

Josh: My friend, it is Thanksgiving.

Chuck: Oh, is it Thanksgiving Day?

Josh: Yes.

Chuck: Well, of course it is, it's Thursday.

Josh: Unless you're in Canada, and in which case, happy late, belated Thanksgiving, because they do theirs in like October.

Chuck: Weirdos.

Josh: I think so too. So who do we have to thank, Chuck?

Chuck: Yeah, I mean we have, for those of you who have never heard this segment, we have listeners that send us gifts from time to time, and it is always very much appreciated and very nice, and so here they are.

Josh: Yeah.

Chuck: I'm going to star with the second page if you want to start with the first page.

Josh: Sure, you go ahead, Chuck.

Chuck: Anthony Savino sent us from his Etsy shop, SwissChisel, laptop and business card holders made out of old wine barrel staves.

Josh: Yeah, those are nice.

Chuck: And he makes all kinds of stuff out of these things, so check out his store, which is SwissChisel on Etsy.

Josh: Yes. And Matt Purhkey from EvolveWorkforce.com sent us some mugs. Matt's aim is to refine drug testing for states where marijuana is legal, so we can get an idea of what your intoxication is immediately after something like an accident or whatever.

Chuck: Yeah, I was wondering about that.

Josh: Well, go to-

Chuck: With states legalizing, like if your job, if you have to get drug tested.

Josh: This guy is on it. EvolveWorkforce.com.

Chuck: Is that where the mug came from?

Josh: Yes.

Chuck: Okay. I thought that was a hint. New York, New York, the band, sent us a promo CD, which is terrific, so we always like getting music from our musician friends, so thanks for that.

Josh: Yeah. Mike Dudek form the ClickyPost.com, C-L-I-C-K-Y-P-O-S-T, sent us cubed pen holders of his own making. He also sent us some awesome Pilot Metropolitan fountain pens, and Rhodia dotPads. Mike is a pen person, and he wanted to share his passion with us, so thank you very much, Mike.

Chuck: All right, we have an anonymous gift. Someone sent us sent us a postcard from the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, Georgia, along with junior federal agent badges for all three of us. And I have mine in my wallet.

Josh: Yeah. You really do, don't you?

Chuck: I do.

Josh: A huge thank you to Chloe the candy maker, who is also a ghost tour guide, who sent us tons of amazing candy from Mackinac Island, Michigan, where I used to go sometimes as a child, so I was very happy to get this.

Chuck: Oh yeah?

Josh: Yeah. And we want to say good luck and safe travels to you and your sister on your world tour, Chloe.

Chuck: Be safe. A big thanks to Annie from Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, sent us a mega care package, for real, of Australian treats. Tim Tams, I think you love those things, right?

Josh: Man, I went crazy for those things.

Chuck: And Caramello kids were pretty good as well. Violet Crumbles, Picnic, Boost, Hero.

Josh: There was some weird stuff in there, but it was all good.

Chuck: Man, those Aussies have got some crazy candies.

Josh: Thanks to Andrew Parr for an entire puzzle dedicated to Stuff You Should Know, and the World of Puzzles winter 2014 issue, it was awesome.

Chuck: Oh, boy, this is one of my favorites. Rob Henion from-sent us those awesome Stuff You Should Know bookends made from industrial fasteners. And they are super cool. They're really heavy, and they're awesome, and you can get information at MoreMetalWelding@gmail.com, or MoreMetal.Etsy.com. It's like quality, quality stuff.

Josh: Yeah it is. Kevin Peloquin, from KevinPeloquin.com, that's K-E-V-I-N-P-E-L-O-Q-U-I-N, and Rad Dad Tees, I think those are both of his sites. He gave us an amazing illustration of Steve Zissou from The Life Aquatic, looking pensively toward the horizon, which I have up in my cubicle.

Chuck: Oh, I wondered what that was from.

Josh: That's from Kevin Peloquin.

Chuck: Lauren and Megan from Chopsticks for Salamanders, they've got a pretty cool cause. They sent us stainless steel, reusable chopsticks. And this is a big deal because chopsticks are-honestly, they're kind of a problem. They sell these to help prevent destruction of forest from those little cheapy, wooden ones, and they're the same forests where they get these, the wood for these things where salamanders live. And so every year, 60 billion pairs of chopsticks are thrown away, and a lot of salamanders are having their forests and habitats destroyed because of your sushi addictions, which I have as well.

Josh: Yes.

Chuck: So get some of these. You can learn more at ChopsticksForSalamanders.org.

Josh: Nice. We got a postcard, and it's been a while since we did this. We got a postcard from our-announcing the birth of one our newer fans, Clyde Avery Thomas, who was born at 1:58 a.m. on January 16th, 2014 in Traverse City, Michigan.

Chuck: I thought you were going to say he's like six.

Josh: By now he probably is, but he most likely came out a little frostbitten because it's cold up there, but congratulations to Andrew and Jenelle Thomas on the birth of your son.

Chuck: Yeah, and happy first birthday pretty soon.

Josh: Pretty soon.

Chuck: Mike and Cassidy Lord from Athens, Georgia, woo-hoo, sent us a postcard from Cambodia while in Borneo.

Josh: I know, wrap your mind around that.

Chuck: Interesting.

Josh: Sarah Austin gave us a very chic and rugged handmade leather cardholder wallets, which are pretty awesome, thank you.

Chuck: Very nice. Rachel Crandall for the line drawing of Stuff You Should Know written in Gallifreyan, it's the language apparently that Time Lords in Doctor Who, of the Time Lords.

Josh: Right.

Chuck: So I'm not a Doctor Who fan, but I appreciated the gift.

Josh: Yeah, it was pretty cool. Julie from Austin, Texas sent us a postcard from the Shedd Aquarium in beautiful Chicago, Illinois. Thank you, Julie.

Chuck: Oh boy, Lois Olsen, this is my favorite gift I've gotten-very simple but awesome. The mini-quilts.

Josh: Yeah.

Chuck: It's basically a little, tiny-not a tiny, it's a small placemat that you use in place of a coaster.

Josh: Right.

Chuck: Mug rugs.

Josh: It's bigger than a coaster, smaller than a placemat.

Chuck: Yeah, a little rectangular thing. And I often at dinner will have maybe a beer, maybe a glass of water, maybe a cup of coffee.

Josh: A shot of whiskey.

Chuck: And I put everything down on my little mug rug, and if anything spills it soaks it up. It's better than a coaster. And it doesn't stick like a coaster. It's going to revolutionize the coaster industry.

Josh: [LAUGHS] Nice.

Chuck: I love them. So thank you, Lois Olsen, for that.

Josh: Thank you to Brett Arnold, who won our horror fiction contest, if you'll remember. He sent us a copy of his book Avalon, and you can get Avalon on Amazon.com. And then lastly for this one, we want to thank Joe and Linda Hecht for sending us tons of stuff, including customized Stuff You Should Know mugs, with hints to podcast topics that they'd like to hear stuff about-they put them on a mug and have them made and send them to us.

Chuck: Yeah, cool mugs.

Josh: They sent us a copy of the DVD American Amazon, they gave us ten bucks to watch it.

Chuck: Oh, man. They're the best.

Josh: They are very great people. So thank you to everybody, and we still have more people to thank left, eventually.

Chuck: Yeah, this is part one.

Josh: Right. But we are grateful for each and every one of you, and all of you listeners out there, whether you send us stuff or not, we're thankful to all of you and we hope you're having a wonderful holiday, no matter where you are in the world.

Chuck: Agreed.

Josh: Happy Thanksgiving.

Chuck: Happy Thanksgiving, all.

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Vo: For more on this and thousands of other topics, visit HowStuffWorks.com.

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