In science-fiction, we often venture to alien worlds or lifeless planets and settle there, building colonies or transforming the worlds in their entirety to support human life. The transformation of a planet’s entire ecosystem to sustain human life, and most likely Terran flora and fauna as well, is called terraforming.
There are different ways to terraform an alien or lifeless planet, and practically every writer whose stories include such a phenomenal feat of technology and orchestration puts his own touch on the technology employed to do so. I’ve encountered several such terraforming strategies in fiction, and could speculate on a bunch of new ones, but just to give you an idea what this area is all about, here are the basic directions in which terraforming can go.
Terraforming is an enormous task that potentially requires enormous machines. These could be planted in strategic positions all around the planet, or they could wander, and do the more rough terraforming work before humans ever set foot on the planet to fine-tune it.
These machines could convert the existing atmosphere into a breathable one (or introduce an atmosphere from own tanks they would replenish elsewhere (maybe gathering component gases from other in-system planets)), enrich the soil with minerals (or churn it, breaking through several layers of crust to achieve the necessary mixture), redirect water streams and dig wells, irrigating the land, and then plant seeds on it and tend to them until they adapt.
In an already alive alien ecosystem, these machines could have to wipe out indigenous plant life first (by releasing toxins, radiation, or simply by burning the upper crust of the planet at high temperatures, killing all plants, seeds and roots). This might have to include wiping out all indigenous fauna as well, if it won’t be compatible. They could use the remaining organic matter (if any) to prepare the soil for the Terran flora.
This all sounds incredibly brutal and rough (at least to me), and it might be used only as a first stage in the terraforming process. The dirty-work part, so to speak.
On a much finer level, nanotechnology could be introduced to modify the soil molecule by molecule, to transform indigenous flora to integrate the Terran one. This might require enormous amounts of nanites, and I mean enormous numbers one can’t even imagine. This would only be possible if they were able to reproduce and multiply using raw materials found on the planet, and then systematically deconstruct and decimate themselves back into a manageable amount that can be recollected.
Epansion of habitable domes
The easiest way to colonize a planet (if we can speak of “easy” at all in this context) would be to construct habitable domes, either in existing craters with artificial covers, or by using some kind of force-fields (depends on the story-physics developed), and possibly a combination of these.
If enough reason exists for humans to settle on that planet, and if the resources on site allow it, they could build increasingly many, increasingly big domes, that could merge to form clusters and then artificial continents, and eventually they might cover the entire planet and unite their atmospheres into a single one.
The covers of these domes, the structures used as roofs would be gradually eliminated, in patches, as the domes’ atmospheres become heavy and saturated enough to form an actual planetary atmosphere.
Another way to terraform a planet, albeit you could call it cheating, would be to use the planet’s raw material to build a whole new, terraformed environment inside a megastructure such as a Globus Cassus. The planet would technically not be itself anymore, but it would still become a Terran world that sustains human life without the need for enclosed spaces (such as domes).
These are but a few ideas for terraforming. There could be many more — such as modifying the indigenous flora on a genetic level, “guiding” it to become similar to the Terran one, thus eliminating the need to seed. Entire continents from Earth could be transplanted on the alien world, if the technology to transport them together with a viable atmosphere “pocket” to the new location exists. One could even imagine a very advanced human civilization to be capable of merging two planets (or more) together into a single, large planet, that could use the raw material of its dead parent to feed the ecosystem of the other and offer it an increased surface to thrive.
* * *
This post is part of the A to Z Blogging Challenge, April 2014.
In 2012, my T post was — Twist Your Reader