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Terraforming by the Numbers

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terraforming-250

The terraforming table simulates the red planet's transition to a blue planet. © AMNH/C. Engelbert


Long a fixture of science fiction, Mars is now being studied by scientists as a real possibility for manned exploration. And there’s already a body of scientific literature about how humans might “terraform” the red planet, manipulating its climate to resemble Earth’s. The Museum’s new exhibition Beyond Planet Earth: The Future of Space Exploration, opening on Saturday, November 19, introduces visitors to the topic with a multi-touch interactive table that teaches users the steps of terraforming Mars by putting them in the driver’s seat of the transformation. Below, some stats on how the table came into being.

13 team members. Animators, programmers, scientists, writers, media specialists, and interaction and interface designers collaborated to bring Mars to life through the interactive table.

300 days. The Exhibition Department has been reading peer-reviewed articles about terraforming, interviewing NASA experts, and designing the table’s technology for over ten months.

66,000 lines of code. The software was created in-house and by the open-source community.

70 illustrations. As users of the table manipulate the conditions of Mars, they will see a seamless transition in climactic conditions. But behind the scenes, illustrators created 70 frames of illustrations to bring this conversion to life.

60-degree rise. The first requirement for making Mars habitable is raising its temperature and trapping the heat in an atmosphere. Players will raise the temperature by 60 degrees centigrade in the terraforming table.

5 atmospheric tools. Tools for generating heat and thickening the atmosphere include orbital mirrors that reflect solar energy, asteroids that crash on the planet’s surface to release frozen carbon dioxide, and factories that produce greenhouse gases—a blessing, not a curse, on Mars.

300+ years. Given the right conditions and budget, it could take as little as a few centuries for Mars’s atmosphere to begin resembling Earth’s.

3 players. Visitors team up to alter the Martian climate, create an atmosphere, and build the biosphere.

1 place to play it. This custom table can be found only at the American Museum of Natural History’s Beyond Planet Earth exhibition, which opens Saturday, November 19.

Click here to learn more about Beyond Planet Earth: The Future of Space Exploration and to buy tickets.

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