A Martian Dream: Here's What the Red Planet Would Look Like With Earth-Like Oceans and Life

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Our planetary neighbor is a dusty, barren land. Here, it's re-imagined as a hospitable, wet globe, a bit like our own home.

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The Mars we all know and love/hate (NASA)

What if instead of dust and rocks, our planetary neighbor Mars were a bit more lush? What if it had oceans, an Earth-like atmosphere, and green life coating its land? These are the questions Kevin Gill, a software engineer living in New Hampshire, sought to answer with his project, A Living Mars.

Gill modeled the Mars terrain in an open-source learning program of his own creation, jDem846, and then set a sea level beneath which everything appeared flat and blue. Then, he brought that model into GIMP, where he painted features into the land based on NASA's Blue Marble: Next Generation imagery. He decided -- not all too scientifically, he admits -- which places seemed like they would be verdant, and which would be deserts. "For example," he explains, "I didn't see much green taking hold within the area of Olympus Mons and the surrounding volcanoes, both due to the volcanic activity and the proximity to the equator (thus a more tropical climate). For these desert-like areas I mostly used textures taken from the Sahara in Africa and some of Australia. Likewise, as the terrain gets higher or lower in latitude I added darker flora along with tundra and glacial ice. These northern and southern areas textures are largely taken from around northern Russia. Tropical and subtropical greens were based on the rainforests of South America and Africa."

Lastly, he brought the image back into jDem846 where he rendered it as a sphere and added clouds and tweaked the lighting. "This wasn't intended as an exhaustive scientific scenario," he writes, "as I'm sure (and expect) some of my assumptions will prove incorrect. I'm hoping at least to trigger the imagination, so please enjoy!"

Gill made two different projections. The first was of Mars' eastern hemisphere:

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The second, playing with a slightly different palette, was of Mars's western hemisphere. You can see Olympus Mons on the horizon, and the Valles Marineris canyons near the image's center.

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Looks like home, maybe a bit, just with a foreign geography. But more than that, what the images convey is a sense of Earth's uniqueness -- a reminder that as far as we have searched, we've yet to see anything that looks even vaguely like our planet, the only place we know of where life has taken hold.



h/t @pbump

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Rebecca J. Rosen is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where she oversees the Business Channel. She was previously an associate editor at The Wilson Quarterly.

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