NASA Explains How Martian ‘Spiders’ Are Formed

Posted: Dec 21 2016, 9:04am CST | by , Updated: Dec 21 2016, 9:12am CST, in News | Latest Science News

 

NASA Explains How ‘Spiders’ Formed on Mars Surface
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona
 

NASA orbiter detect infant versions of Mars spider-like features and observe their growth from one Martian year to another

The north pole of Mars is dotted with unusual spider-like features and now researchers have figured out how those features were formed in Martian surface.

The spiders on Mars may be the larger versions of troughs that are carved by thawing carbon dioxide and grow into branches as they extend over several Martian years.

Using High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, researchers have detected channels of troughs or ‘baby spiders’ on Mars surface for the first time and also observed their persistent growth from one Martian year to another.

Researchers found that the channels of troughs tend to meet at a point and create a larger structure that resembles the legs and body of a spider. Each spider ranges in size from tens to hundreds of yards and combined they appear like a large network of spiders scattered on the surface.

“We have seen for the first time these smaller features that survive and extend from year to year and this is how the larger spiders get started,” said Ganna Portyankina from University of Colorado, Boulder. “These are in sand dune areas, so we don’t know whether they will keep getting bigger or will disappear under moving sand.”

Researchers suggest that dunes in the area appear to be a factor that causes the surface to crumble and form small spiders. Researchers estimate that it would require more than thousand Martian years of observations in order to determine the rate a small fracture needs to turn into a fully grown spider. The latest observations involve three images taken over the span of three Martian years.

 “There are dunes where we see these dendritic [or branching] troughs in the south, but in this area, there is less sand than around the north pole’ said Portyankina. “I think the sand is what jump starts the process of carving a channel in the ground.”

Forming a spider may require sunshine to penetrate the surface and heat up the ice, causing carbon dioxide ice sheets to thaw into gas. The gas builds up until a crack is formed in an ice sheet. Then, the process carves the channels that resemble the spidery terrain.

 

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