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Donald Marron

Marvin, would you take $28,000 for Mars?

An astrophysicist puts a dollar value on planets, but has he undervalued Mars?

By Guest blogger / February 7, 2011

Guest blogger Donald Marron thinks the $14,000 estimate of Mars's worth is too low. So, he makes a 100 percent mark-up offer of $28,000 to Marvin the Martian.

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Over at Boing Boing, Lee Billings interviews astrophysicist Greg Laughlin about his formula for valuing planets. Or, more precisely, measuring how much it appears we value those planets based on (a) how much we spend to search for them and (b) planet characteristics like stellar age, stellar mass, light, heat, brightness, etc.

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According to the formula, Earth is worth about $5 quadrillion. Which seems about right if you believe my only-partly-joking estimate that the United States alone is worth $1.4 quadrillion.

Mars, however, rings in at a measly $14,000. That seems low to me, so let me make an offer.

Dear Marvin: I would gladly pay you $28,000 for your home, Mars. That’s a 100% mark-up on today’s value. And you and your goons could continue to live there. Thanks, –Donald P.S. Please send Spirit back.

And then there’s Venus. Laughlin ran his equation two ways for the brightest planet in our sky:

Venus is a great example. It does pretty well in the equation, and actually gets a value of about one and a half quadrillion dollars if you tweak its reflectivity a bit to factor in its bright clouds. This echoes what unfolded for Venus in the first half of the 20th century, when astronomers saw these bright clouds and thought they were water clouds, and that it was really humid and warm on the surface. It gave rise to this idea in the 1930s that Venus was a jungle planet. So you put this in the formula, and it has an explosive valuation. Then you’d show up and face the reality of lead melting on the surface beneath sulfuric-acid clouds, and everyone would want their money back!

If Venus is valued using its actual surface temperature, it’s like 10-12 of a single cent. @home.com was valued on the order of a billion dollars for its market cap, and the stock is now literally worth zero. Venus is unfortunately the @home.com of planets.

In short, Venus might be worth as much as the United States or nothing. If the astrophysicist thing doesn’t work out, Laughlin could clearly find work as an economist.

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