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These five images from the HiRISE camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter show different Martian features of progressively greater size and complexity, all thought to result from thawing of seasonal carbon dioxide ice that covers large areas near Mars' south pole during winter.
12.20.2016

Possible Development Stages of Martian 'Spiders'

These five images from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter show different Martian features of progressively greater size and complexity, all thought to result from thawing of seasonal carbon-dioxide ice that covers large areas near Mars' south pole during winter.

The sequence illustrates possible stages in development of a type of Martian terrain called "araneiform," from Latin for spider-shaped. They range from a depression with one trough (upper left) to a broad network of "spiders" (lower right). Each image has a scale bar in meters, from 20 meters (66 feet) in the upper-left image to 300 meters (984 feet) in the lower-right one.

Each image also includes dark "fans" that result from the same thawing process. Carbon-dioxide ice, better known as "dry ice," does not occur naturally on Earth. On Mars, sheets of it cover the ground during winter in areas near both poles, including the south-polar regions with spidery terrain. The dark fans appear in these areas each spring.

Spring sunshine penetrates the ice to warm the ground underneath, causing some carbon dioxide on the bottom of the sheet to thaw into gas. The trapped gas builds pressure until a crack forms in the ice sheet. Gas erupts out, and gas beneath the ice rushes toward the vent, picking up particles of sand and dust. This erodes the ground and also supplies the geyser with particles that fall back to the surface, downwind, and appear as the dark spring fans.

These five images are excerpts from HiRISE observations PSP_002718_0950 , taken Feb. 24, 2007, at 85 degrees south latitude, 82 degrees east longitude, and ESP_011842_0980 , taken Feb. 4, 2009, at 81 degrees south latitude, 76 degrees east longitude.

HiRISE is one of six instruments on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which began examining Mars in 2006. The University of Arizona, Tucson, operates HiRISE, which was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., Boulder, Colorado. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, built the orbiter and collaborates with JPL to operate it.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

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