Martians might really exist… In the future. But instead of the aliens of sci-fi movies, martians would be humans born and raised on Mars.
Why would your skin be orange? Would you be a different species? Would you ever be able to visit Earth?
Some of our previous episodes have already looked at what it would take to live on Mars. But that’s only half the story. To create a stable settlement on the red planet, people would have to start having babies.
How many people would we need to create a healthy, non-inbred population? Some say we’d only need 98 people, but others say we’d need a minimum of 10,000.
Regardless of the size of the breeding population, it would only take a few generations before we started seeing a huge difference between earthlings and martians. Mars is the most Earth-like planet in the Solar System. But it’s not exactly like the Earth. Its gravity, atmosphere and magnetic field would create serious challenges for human life.
And challenges often go hand in hand with evolution. Children on Earth are born with up to 120 genetic mutations. Move those babies to Mars, and they would start having mutations suitable for martian living. And those mutations would likely pass on to their children.
By the time we settle on Mars, we’ll probably have the ability to modify our own genes, putting martian evolution on the fast track.
So if you were born in the third or fourth generation of martians, you would be a lot different than you are today. But what are the main reasons why you body would change?
First, there’s gravity. Mars only has one-third of Earth’s gravity. So your bones wouldn’t experience the same force.
Your bones would lose their density and become more brittle. Breaking them would become a common issue. Then there’s the atmosphere. On Earth, you’re used to a dense atmosphere that mostly contains nitrogen and oxygen. But on Mars, you’d be experiencing a thin atmosphere that’s mostly carbon dioxide with only trace amounts of oxygen.
You wouldn’t be able to evolve a whole new respiratory system. But you could develop other ways of dealing with the lack of oxygen. You could have denser capillaries that are more efficient at moving blood and transporting oxygen to your muscles.
But even with these advances, you’d still have to live underground or in a thickly insulated house to survive the harsh atmosphere.
And since life on Mars would be confined to small spaces, martians wouldn’t need to be able to see far into the distance. You would be born near-sighted.
Finally, there’s the radiation. Earth has a strong magnetic field that protects us from lethal solar radiation. But Mars has a weak magnetic field that’s scattered along the planet.
On Earth, our bodies produce melanin. It protects us from the radiation that does make it through Earth’s magnetic field. But the radiation on Mars would be much stronger, and melanin just wouldn’t cut it.
Instead, your skin would produce carotenoids. This pigment would help protect you against skin cancer by slowing or stopping the cell cycle.
Carotenoids can even make melanoma cells self-destruct. They’re also what give carrots their vivid orange coloring. In other words, your skin would be orange.
So with all these changes to your body, would you be able to visit Earth? Well, Mars wouldn’t have the same type of bacteria and viruses that the Earth does.
Your immune system would be weaker than that of an earthling’s. Which means Earth could be a dangerous place for you.
And even if your immune system were strong, the gravity of Earth would be too much for your brittle bones. If you were born on Mars, you’d probably have to stay there.
Humans have looked the same for a very long time. But within a few generations of living on Mars, we could have orange, near-sighted humans who could survive on less oxygen. And once we successfully settle on Mars, we probably wouldn’t stop there. In the future, humans could have settlements on all sorts of planets, even outside the Solar System.
- “Mars Compared To Earth”. 2021. phys.org.
- “The Health Benefits Of Carotenoids – Carotene”. 2021. carotene.org.
- “How Tibetans Survive Life On The ‘Roof Of The World’”. Riley, Alex. 2021. bbc.com.
- “Near-Sighted Kids Of Mars Colonists Could Find Sex With Earth-Humans Deadly”. 2019. Inverse.
- “Babies born on Mars could diverge from Earthlings within a couple of generations”. 2019. ZME Science.
- “How many humans would it take to keep our species alive? One scientist’s surprising answer”. Corey S. Powell. 2018. NBC News.