Citizen Scientists Discover ‘Spiders’ On Mars Surface

Posted: Sep 1 2017, 4:05pm CDT | by , in News

 
Citizen Scientists Discover ‘Spiders’ on Mars Surface
Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Landforms, known as 'spiders,' were found on parts of Mars where they were previously thought not to exist

Astronomers have spotted new landforms on Martian surface with the help of citizen scientists. These formations look similar to spiders and are based on multiple networks of cracks but they are detected on parts of Mars where they were previously thought not to exist.

Named ‘spiders,’ the peculiar feature is a type of land erosion and was previously known to exist only in one place of Mars south polar region. However, in a recent study, volunteers spotted the spider shaped formations in other areas of the Martian polar surface, which is why it came as a surprise to scientists.

The discovery was made by citizen scientists working on an online project hosted by Zooniverse, the world's largest and most popular people-powered research platform. The finding was later confirmed by using high resolution imaging from HiRISE camera installed on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

“This was a totally unexpected find. By having so many eyes scouring the images, we know now that the SPLD (South Polar Layered Deposits) is not the only place where spiders form. This will help us better understand the carbon dioxide jet formation process,” said lead author Dr Meg Schwamb, from the Gemini Observatory.

'The carbon dioxide jet process that forms 'spiders' is a completely un-Earthly phenomenon. The only other body suspected of having these jets is Neptune's moon Triton. By studying these spiders and jets we're learning more about how Mars differs from Earth. The jet process is linked to the Martian seasons and is returning carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, studying these new locales will give new insights into the Martian atmosphere.

The spider-shaped formations typically occur when carbon dioxide turns to ice during the Martian winter. As the seasons change, spring sunshine penetrates the ice to warm the ground underneath and cause some carbon dioxide on the bottom to thaw into gas, forming an unusual geological feature that resembles the legs and body of a spider.

Around 10,000 citizen scientists contributed to the discovery of 'spider' formations. For this purpose, they viewed and classified over 20,000 images derived from observations made by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s the Context Camera (CTX). Not only do these images contain spiders but many other landforms like 'Swiss cheese terrain' and craters.

Next, researchers will use the HiRISE images to see if these spider-like features involve similar or different processes to the ones found on SPLD.

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.

 

 

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