'Spiders' on Mars: Citizen scientists discover new landforms on red planet

01 September 2017, 04:00 PM
'Spiders' on Mars: Citizen scientists discover new landforms on red planet
'Spiders' on Mars: Citizen scientists discover new landforms on red planet

In an atypical discovery, as many as 10,000 citizen scientists have succeeded in uncovering landforms called 'spiders' on parts of Mars where they were earlier thought to never exist.

Named after their arachnid-like appearance, 'spiders' are a particular kind of land erosion where networks of cracks form on martian soil, completely different to anything on Earth, researchers at Oxford University in the UK said.

The discovery was made by unpaid assistant scientists who were working for ‘Planet Four: Terrains’, an online mission hosted by Zooniverse, which is the largest and most popular audience-powered research platform of the world.

Scientifically known as 'Araneifroms', these patterns are present at the red planet's South Pole and form when carbon dioxide turns to ice during winters.

Read more: NASA's next Mars mission InSight to focus on deep interior of Mars

As the seasons on Mars change, direct sunbeams go through the transparent ice, hence warming up the land beneath. The land surface then gets eroded as the carbon dioxide races out and rips off little bits of dirt, forming branches which looks like spider legs.

The features were earlier believed to be present on a region known as the South Polar Layered Deposits (SPLD).

In a research published in journal Icarus, citizen-science volunteers confirmed the appearances of these sightings in other areas of the martian surface using high resolution imaging from HiRISE (High Resolution Imaging Experiment) camera aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Lead author of the research paper, Meg Schwamb said, "This was a totally unexpected find. By having so many eyes scouring the images, we know now that the SPLD is not the only place where spiders form. This will help us better understand the carbon dioxide jet formation process".

First Published: Friday, September 01, 2017 03:47 PM

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