General Question

JackAdams's avatar

Is it possible to create an Earthlike atmosphere on the Moon, to make it habitable for humans?

Asked by JackAdams (6536points) September 2nd, 2008

I envision that if the Moon had a breathable atmosphere exactly like that on Earth, humans could eventually colonize the lunar surface, and the only real difference betwen the Earth and the Moon, I’m assuming, would be that gravity would be 1/6th that of what is experienced on Earth.

So, if this were to be attempted, what would need to be done, and how much time do you think it would take to accomplish this? And would this be a good idea to try, as a kind of prelude for attempts to colonize other “Class M” planets in the Universe?

At the very least, I’d like to eventually see some sort of “Palomar Observatory” there, staffed by all kinds of scientists and support workers (and their families) researching and learning about our Universe.

In the meantime, I wouldn’t mind seeing a movie about terraforming the lunar surface, if one hasn’t already seriously addressed this subject.

Your thoughts on this?

September 2, 2008, 5:50 AM EDT

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18 Answers

Jax's avatar

It depends if you’re going for the life-support systems or the real thing I guess. Building some artificial dome and grow enough plants to form oxygen would be something that can be created within one generation. People would rely heavily on earth’s support for food, clothes, spare parts and such.

Creating something like the ozone layer to re-create an actual atmosphere on the moon is not possible (yet). This would be ideal, creating a much more acceptable size to colonise, grow and produce things to our needs on planet moon. But what happens when this would be reality…

I think it would be scary like “the terminator killing all human lifeforms -scary”. A select group of people all lost on planet moon, killing each other to survive. I think it would end in some mad-max weirdo stuff up there…

Harp's avatar

The moon is lacking in one requisite of a viable atmosphere: gravity. Not only does Earth’s gravity keep all of our atmospheric gasses from escaping into space; it also allows them to acquire enough density to create the atmospheric pressure we need to survive.

Even if we could generate enough gasses to blanket the moon, and perhaps even contain them within some kind of envelope, they would never be compressed enough by gravity to create the pressure our bodies require.

joeysefika's avatar

It requires water, thats why scientists were so super psyched when they found traces of water on mars, possible atmosphere! although the amount of water needed to initially form an atmosphere would be extraordinarily large.
(although its a good use for the extra water caused by global warming, two birds with one stone so to speak)

Scrumpulator's avatar

Well, to put it even more simply then these people, the solar winds would strip anything you tried to put on it instantly. Io for example, the moon of Jupiter. It releases trillions and trillions of tons of gases all the time, it is stripped and shot into space in short order, due to gravity, and solar winds. I also believe the that the gravity of Jupiter has something to do with it as well.

EnzoX24's avatar

The moon cannot sustain an atmosphere of of its own because it is a solid rock. The Earth’s core generates a magnetic field around the Earth which is what locks in our atmosphere. Scientists believe Mars, at one point, was just like Earth, but the core stopped spinning. When that happened, the planet lost it’s magnetic field and the atmosphere along with it. The only way humans can survive on the moon would be with artificial housing.

Harp's avatar

That’s a problematic theory; Venus also lacks a magnetic field, yet has a whopping atmosphere. But whereas Venus and Earth have similar mass, Mars has only 1/10 the mass of Earth, and a correspondingly low gravity.

JackAdams's avatar

Thanks to all of you for your thoughts. Keep them coming, if you have any additional ones, because I really am here to learn, regarding this.

@Harp: The Moon DOES have gravity, albeit 1/6th that of Earth, which simply means, as I understand it, that something which weighs 600 lbs. on Earth, would weigh 100 lbs. on the Moon, right?

September 2, 2008, 11:07 AM EDT

Harp's avatar

Right. By “lacking”, I meant to say that the moon’s gravity was insufficient, not that it was absent. Mars has about 1/3 of Earth’s gravity.

JackAdams's avatar

@Harp: So, you’re saying that, because terraforming the lunar surface would be impossible due to the lack of sufficient gravity, colonists (if any) would be forced to reside inside something like Biosphere 2?

September 2, 2008, 11:28 AM EDT

Harp's avatar

…with the additional complication (which the designers of Biosphere didn’t face) that the structure would have to be engineered to resist the pressure differential between the interior of the envelope and the virtual vacuum on the outside. This would amount to a pressure pushing out on the structure of at least 4.7 PSI.

That may not sound like much, and it is quite manageable on the scale of a spacesuit or a spacecraft, but it would represent a considerable engineering challenge to fight that kind of load over a vast expanse of envelope.

JackAdams's avatar

That would mean that a series of airlocks would have to be utilized, to provide for the safe entry and exit of the Biosphere, right?

I agree that such a structure on the lunar surface would indeed present a very “challenging” task for structural engineers.

Thanks for contributing to my understanding of some of the intricacies involved in such an undertaking.

September 2, 2008, 11:59 AM EDT

PeterM's avatar

Odds are that it would be more practical to put a sealed dome underground. That would make more sense and be more structurally sound.

JackAdams's avatar


September 2, 2008, 1:31 PM EDT

Zen's avatar

@MattBrowne – take care of it for me, buddy, and call me when you’re ready.

glasswalker's avatar

in order to increase gravity could the rotation of the moon be increased in speed? that should allow it to hold in an atmospher….also the moon is currently roating away from our planet and gets just a little bit further away each year, so In order for the moon to both support life and be of value.. figuratively without a dome for life support… thoughs things would need to be done first.

lucidlord's avatar

how certain is mainstream science that the moon’s gravity is 1/6th Earths? Also, glasswalker brought up an important point, a brutal 14 day, lightcycle I’d hypothesize, has a lot to do with the escaping atmosphere. If the moon spun faster, would that allow wind to travel sideways, instead of just outward; keeping in more gases? hmm…

I also say about domes, you could support the outward pressure of the gases by cable supports strategically positioned to ease some of the load on the dome itself. Just paint them white or mirror to keep em unseen. heh.

claude199x's avatar

What about creating an atmosphere of some heavy gases, that could create an atmosphere thick enough to emulate earth pressure, and that would deal with the temperature changes, creating some sort of green house effect also. Look at Titan, it has a very similar gravity as the moon, but its surface pressure is twice that of Earth. An atmosphere thinner than that of Titan, could be livable in the way that you would forget about pressure problems, and temperature changes, it would not be breathable, but it will be the only problem.

claude199x's avatar

The rotation of the moon, has nothing to do with the escaping atmosphere, only sun wind, lack of magnetic field combination does it. Also, making the moon spin faster will not increase its gravity, because the moon mass, will stay the same, in fact, it cou deven be “reduced”, only apparently by the bigger centrifugal effect con the equator at the surface of the moon. Take Venus as an example, it rotates slower than it takes to complete a revolution around the sun, but its atmosphere is still there.

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