Mars meteorites into oxygen: can AI help accelerate a human colony on the Red Planet

The AI robot can do this process in less than 5 hours

Mars (Picture: Nasa/Jet Propulsion Laboratory/Cornell University via Getty Images)Mars (Picture: Nasa/Jet Propulsion Laboratory/Cornell University via Getty Images)
Mars (Picture: Nasa/Jet Propulsion Laboratory/Cornell University via Getty Images)

An AI-powered robot chemist developed by Chinese scientists could use materials found on Mars to help turn water into oxygen. The report, which was shared in the journal Nature Synthesis, used a mobile robot equipped with a robotic arm to examine five Martian meteorites, and it identified materials that could catalyze the breakdown of water molecules into oxygen and hydrogen.

The AI robot used a combination of acid and alkali which dissolved and separated meteorite material. This led to the discovery of a chemical compound capable of decomposing water from ice deposits found around Mars, completing the task in less than 5 hours - and this process might take a human researcher around 2,000 years to uncover.

"We have developed a robotic AI system that has a chemistry brain," lead study author Dr. Jun Jiang, from the University of Science and Technology of China in Hefei, told Nature. "We think our machine can make use of compounds in Martian ores without human guidance."

The robot chemist first analyzes the chemical composition of Martian ores using a laser-based instrument called Libs which is capable of pretreating the ores, including weighing, preparing solutions, and separating the required catalyst material from liquid, the study said.

The robot also has a built-in workstation to test the resulting metal compound from which the collected data is sent to the computational AI “brain” for processing. Testing the catalyst at -37 °C (-34.6 °F) – the temperature on Mars – scientists confirmed that it can steadily produce oxygen without degradation.

With just 15 hours of solar irradiation, researchers say the AI chemist can produce sufficient oxygen concentration needed for human survival.

“In the future, humans can establish oxygen factory on Mars with the assistance of AI chemist. This breakthrough technology brings us one step closer to achieving our dream of living on Mars,” study co-author Jiang Jun said.

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