How Terraforming Works

By: John Perritano

Terraforming Made Easy, Courtesy of Cyanobacteria

Living and working on other planets has been a dream of humans since we started gazing up into the firmament. Many people have longed to create bases on the moon, as well as Mars and other planets. It's not such a far-fetched idea. While it's one thing to build bases on an alien world — heck, they do it all the time on "Star Trek" -- it's quite another to terraform an entire planet.

First, we must find a so-called biocompatible planet, which already has the necessary building blocks for life. That's pretty much what NASA has been trying to do for decades as various spacecraft, including a fleet of Martian rovers, look for water, carbon and oxygen on alien landscapes. The agency also has been keeping an eye out for promising exoplanets, courtesy of Kepler and the like.


To jump-start the terraforming process, we might have to seed the planet with bacteria and other organisms [source: University of Maryland]. And if we wanted really to speed things up, we could use cyanobacteria to produce oxygen. These little cafeterias can make their own lunches and dinners in extreme; they wouldn't have to rely on an alien world for food. These tiny critters helped to create an oxygen-rich environment on Earth beginning some 3.5 billion years ago. Just how long this would take on another planetary body is anyone's guess.

Once terraforming began, cyanobacteria would speed up the process as conditions approached that of Earth. Eventually the planet would get to the point where it was possible to plant vegetation on the surface, which also would hasten the production of life-sustaining oxygen. When the time was right, we could even build an interstellar Noah's ark and drop animals on to the surface [source: University of Maryland].