Caltech researchers developed a way to get oxygen on Mars

Although space is full of oxygen, it's mostly unsuitable for breathing.


Oxygen In Space
Oxygen In Space


Scientists have created a reactor that converts carbon dioxide into molecular oxygen, or O2. 

It will help combat climate change on Earth, and on other planets it will provide breathable air for astronauts and colonists.

Oxygen is one of the main obstacles to space exploration. Earth is the only known place where this vital gas is present in sufficient quantities and it is expensive and impractical to take it with you. 

On ISS, the crew can breathe freely thanks to electrolysis, and in extreme cases there is a stock of compressed gas. But on a large scale such a scheme is impractical.

Caltech engineers have decided to find another way to produce oxygen. Their idea seems quite simple: take CO2 and remove carbon. They found that if you direct the carbon dioxide to an inert surface like gold foil, the molecules can split to form molecular oxygen and atomic carbon.

Their reactor acts in a similar way to a particle accelerator. The CO2 molecules are first ionized and then accelerated by an electric field, then hitting the gold surface.

In its current form, the reactor's performance is not high - for every 100 CO2 molecules, it produces one or two oxygen molecules, but it deserves attention as proof of the functionality of an idea that can be scaled up.

It is worth noting that the same reaction occurs in nature. It was noticed for the first time in the study of molecular oxygen found on comets. 

At first, the researchers decided that oxygen was locked inside the rock, but in 2017, scientists from the Caltech University of Technology suggested another explanation: oxygen was produced because some other compound encountered the comet at high speed. 

Their idea seems quite simple: take CO2 and remove carbon. They found that if you direct the carbon dioxide to an inert surface like gold foil, the molecules can split to form molecular oxygen and atomic carbon, writes New Atlas.

In the future, such a reactor could produce oxygen for astronauts flying to the Moon, Mars or beyond. And on Earth, it will be useful for removing CO2 from the atmosphere, which, according to Global Carbon Project estimates, has reached a record 37.1 billion tons this year.

The research was published in the journal Nature Communications.

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