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Thousands of ‘Spiders’ on Mars

As part of the Planet Four citizen science effort, volunteers searched Context Camera images for possible new locations on Mars with “spiders...”

Stunning new images captured by NASA show amazing features across the Martian landscape.  The curious shapes spotted on the surface of the red planet are dubbed araneiforms due to their arachnid-like appearance.

While they are not actual alien spiders as some may have already jumped to conclusions, the curious landscape features are a type of land erosion present do to networks of cracks on the Martian soil.

The best part is that they are totally different from anything we can see on Earth.

NASA has explained the features in great detail in the past:

Mars’ seasonal cap of carbon dioxide ice has eroded many beautiful terrains as it sublimates (goes directly from ice to vapor) every spring. In the region where the High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter took this image, we see troughs that form a starburst pattern. In other areas, these radial troughs have been referred to as spiders, simply because of their shape. In this region, the pattern looks more dendritic as channels branch out numerous times as they get further from the center.

The troughs are believed to be formed by gas flowing beneath the seasonal ice to openings where the gas escapes, carrying along dust from the surface below. The dust falls to the surface of the ice in fan-shaped deposits.

Curios features called Araneiforms spotted on Mars. Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Univeristy of Arizona
Curios features called Araneiforms spotted on Mars. Image Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

The features were photographed using the HiRISE (High-Resolution Imaging Experiment) camera aboard Nasa’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).

The araneiforms were identified by volunteers from Planet four, the worlds most famous people-powered research platform. The platform has more than 1.6 million volunteers from around the world.

“As part of the Planet Four citizen science effort, volunteers searched Context Camera images for possible new locations on Mars with “spiders,” or features with radial troughs from which fans emanate in the springtime,” a spokesman for the group said on the HiRISE website from the University of Arizona.

“We planned this HiRISE image over one such location, to verify that they are spiders. There are thousands of them in this image.”

Martian araneiforms are thought to form at the planet’s South Pole when carbon dioxide transforms to ice during the cold Martian winter.

For this project, around 10,000 citizen scientists contributed to the araneiform research. They viewed and combed through more than 20,000 images that were obtained by the Context Camera (CTX), aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

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