JAN 09, 2017 09:49 AM PST

NASA Observes Cumulative Growth of Martian "Spiders" for the First Time

Using the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), NASA has, for the first time, been able to observe the cumulative growth of large Martian “spiders” over the course of three Martian years, each of which last 1.9 Earth years. The latest findings appear in the journal Icarus.

Although we’ve seen similar structures to these, many of which were much larger, on the red planet before and understand pretty well how they’re formed, NASA has never really had the opportunity to see their growth over time, making this a significant observation.

Martian "spiders" are strange black structures that occur only on the South Pole of the planet, but now NASA has been able to observe their growth over time for the first time.

Image Credit: NASA

We understand many of these smaller formations may have the ability to grow into larger spider-like formations over extended periods of time thanks to the effects of thawing carbon dioxide (dry ice, which occurs naturally on Mars unlike on Earth) on the red planet during the Winter season. This process may take up to 1,000 Martian years.

After the ice melts, it produces a carbon dioxide gas, which erodes the ground around it as it escapes to the surface. It escapes through cracks, which occur from the build-up of pressure. This very same pressure is responsible for launching particles into the air, which are then replaced by new particles that give it this dark appearance.

There are numerous exhibits of these “spiders” all over the Southern pole region of Mars, but they don’t seem to form anywhere else on the red planet. They are large enough to be picked up by satellite imagery, ranging from tens to hundreds of yards in size.

They’re referred to as “spiders” because of their unique shape; at the center of each is what appears to be a globular body, and then spanning from the center in omnidirectional formations are branches that look like spider legs.

According to the research, these formations only appear in the sand dunes of the South, which suggests that the sand dunes, in addition to the climate, play a role in their unique formation.

"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 of the University of Colorado, Boulder and the lead author of the Icarus study. "These are in sand-dune areas, so we don't know whether they will keep getting bigger or will disappear under moving sand."

Sand dunes are made up of loose sand, and they likely play a role in the create and destroy process of these spider-like structures. They have the right conditions to form them, but because of their looseness, sand that gets blown over the structures can easily cover them up.

The North pole and the South pole each have their fair share of loose sandy dunes, but the North reportedly has looser sand, which isn’t optimal for making these structures. The South pole has loose sand also, but because it’s a little more structurally sound, it prevents nearby sand from simply re-filling the cracks when they’re formed.

If it weren’t for the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, observations such as these would not be possible. If we’re ever going to colonize Mars, we will have to do our best to better understand how the red planet works, and every discovery we make helps us get closer to unlocking the secret behind Mars.

Source: NASA

About the Author
  • Fascinated by scientific discoveries and media, Anthony found his way here at LabRoots, where he would be able to dabble in the two. Anthony is a technology junkie that has vast experience in computer systems and automobile mechanics, as opposite as those sound.
You May Also Like
OCT 16, 2018
Space & Astronomy
OCT 16, 2018
NASA Astronaut Nick Hague Describes Experience From Failed Soyuz Launch
Just last week, a Russian rocket tasked with sending NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Roscosmos cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin to the International Space Station f...
OCT 30, 2018
Space & Astronomy
OCT 30, 2018
NASA Officially Retires the Kepler Space Telescope
For more than nine-and-a-half years, NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope helped curious astronomers on their quest to identify distant worlds. These words,...
NOV 05, 2018
Space & Astronomy
NOV 05, 2018
The Mystery Behind Oumuamua Continues...
Last year, Oumuamua became the first-known interstellar object to be identified by astronomers as it passed through our solar system. At first, astronomers...
DEC 19, 2018
Space & Astronomy
DEC 19, 2018
This is One of the Coldest Known Places in the Universe
Discerning the coldest place in the universe is no easy task; after all, we don’t have an ultra-long thermometer that we can merely extend out to the...
DEC 24, 2018
Space & Astronomy
DEC 24, 2018
NASA Wrapped the James Webb Space Telescope Chassis Like a Present in Time for Christmas
NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has seen so many delays in recent memory that it’s not even funny, but assembly teams continue to march forwa...
JAN 16, 2019
Chemistry & Physics
JAN 16, 2019
Second Repeating Fast Radio Bursts Detected
Scientists working at Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment, or CHIME, announced that they have detected a total of 13 fast radio bursts in July a...
Loading Comments...