JAN 09, 2017 9:49 AM PST

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

WRITTEN BY: Anthony Bouchard

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
JUN 29, 2020
Space & Astronomy
Hubble Captures the 'Flapping' of Cosmic 'Wings'
JUN 29, 2020
Hubble Captures the 'Flapping' of Cosmic 'Wings'
The Hubble Space Telescope continues to send us incredible images of space. It has recently captured an image involving ...
SEP 13, 2020
Space & Astronomy
A Missing Piece of the Dark Matter Puzzle
SEP 13, 2020
A Missing Piece of the Dark Matter Puzzle
Most matter, and about a quarter of the mass-energy in the universe is thought to be made of dark matter, but we still d ...
SEP 15, 2020
Space & Astronomy
Carbon-rich Planets May Be Full of Diamonds
SEP 15, 2020
Carbon-rich Planets May Be Full of Diamonds
Researchers from Arizona State University and the University of Chicago have found that carbon-rich planets outside our ...
OCT 07, 2020
Space & Astronomy
Earth-Sized Rogue Planet Found Drifting Through Our Galaxy
OCT 07, 2020
Earth-Sized Rogue Planet Found Drifting Through Our Galaxy
A team of astronomers has found a lone planet the size of Earth drifting through the Milky Way. Known as a ‘rogue ...
OCT 16, 2020
Space & Astronomy
Scientists Watch the 'Spaghettification' of a Star
OCT 16, 2020
Scientists Watch the 'Spaghettification' of a Star
In work that could help scientists understand how matter behaves when it's close to supermassive black holes, a star has ...
NOV 04, 2020
Space & Astronomy
Missing Link Between Fast Radio Bursts & Magnetars Found in Our Galaxy
NOV 04, 2020
Missing Link Between Fast Radio Bursts & Magnetars Found in Our Galaxy
A neutron star is born when a massive star dies out in a supernova, leaving its collapsed and incredibly dense core rema ...
Loading Comments...