Humans May Soon Walk On Mars With Breathable Oxygen

Humans may soon create their own oxygen to use on a different planet. And it’s all thanks to comets that gave scientists the idea to find a new source of the vital chemical element outside of Earth. 

A new study, published in the journal Nature Communications, shows how a new chemical process can utilize wisps of gas streaming off comets to produce oxygen in space and other planets.

The process was introduced by Konstantinos Giapis, a professor of chemical engineering at California Institute of Technology, and postdoctoral fellow Yunxi Yao. 

The process uses kinetic energy to cause chemical reactions that produce oxygen. Such reaction was found occurring on comets when water molecules vaporize from the surface and released through solar wind until they crash back into the comet at high speed. 

Traveling at an extremely high speed could turn water molecule into molecular oxygen. Giapis also found that the carbon dioxide on comets produce the same molecular oxygen. 

"At the time we thought it would be impossible to combine the two oxygen atoms of a CO2 molecule together because CO2 is a linear molecule, and you would have to bend the molecule severely for it to work," he said in a statement. "You're doing something really drastic to the molecule."

Previously, scientists found small amounts of oxygen in the Martian atmosphere. Giapis said the element was present on the Red Planet due to the same process he discovered. 

The scientist suggested oxygen is being generated by high-speed dust particles colliding with CO2 molecules. Giapis said a variation of his reactor could be used in future space missions to give astronauts a source of breathable air on Mars. 

Aside from space explorations, he said the discovery may also help save Earth. Converting CO2 into oxygen in the atmosphere could help fight climate change. 

However, Giapis’ tool is still in early stages and operates in a low yield. It can only create one to two oxygen molecules for every 100 CO2 molecules shot through the accelerator.

"Is it a final device? No. Is it a device that can solve the problem with Mars? No,” he said. “But it is a device that can do something that is very hard," he said. "We are doing some crazy things with this reactor."

Mars Mars' own Grand Canyon, Valles Marineris, is shown on the surface of the planet in this composite image made aboard NASA's Mars Odyssey spacecraft. Researchers suggest that water potentially flows from surface streams in near-equatorial areas on the red planet, coming from an active system as deep as 750 meters. NASA/Arizona State University via Getty Images