NASA news SHOCK: Martian spiders photographed on Red Planet | Science | News


The Martian spiders were photographed mid-May by the NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) in the planet’s southern hemisphere.

But the eerie looking dark shapes are not quite what seem to be – and no, they are not David Bowie’s backing band.

The spiders from Mars are formations of carbon dioxide ice caps around Mars’ south pole.

The spider-like formations, dubbed araneiform terrain, form when carbon dioxide ice trapped below the ground pools to the surface.

The US agency said in a release: “This image from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, acquired May 13, 2018 during winter at the South Pole of Mars, shows a carbon dioxide ice cap covering the region and as the sun returns in the spring, ‘spiders’ begin to emerge from the landscape.

“But these aren’t actual spiders. Called ‘araneiform terrain’, describes the spider-like radiating mounds that form when carbon dioxide ice below the surface heats up and releases.

“This is an active seasonal process not seen on Earth.”

Much like dry ice back on Earth, the Martian ice sublimates or chances form solid to gas, with the changing temperatures.

When thermometers spike and the ice sublimates, the created gas gets trapped below the surface.

The carbon dioxide collects beneath the surface to the point where the growing pressure forces it to break free for the atmosphere.

The force of eruption spews streaks of dark dust which spread out like a spider’s spindly legs.

NASA said: “Over time the trapped carbon dioxide gas builds in pressure and is eventually strong enough to break through the ice as a jet that erupts dust.

“The gas is released into the atmosphere and darker dust may be deposited around the vent or transported by winds to produce streaks.

“The loss of the sublimated carbon dioxide leaves behind these spider-like features etched into the surface.”

The MRO is a £544million ($720million) exploration spacecraft launched towards Mars in August 2005.

The NASA spacecraft has already served more than double its intended lifetime and the space agency announced in February it hopes to keep the space probe running past the mid-2020s.

MRO mission chief Dan Johnston said: “We know we’re a critical element for the Mars Program to support other missions for the long haul, so we’re finding ways to extend the spacecraft’s.

“In flight operations, our emphasis is on minimising risk to the spacecraft while carrying out an ambitious scientific and programmatic plan.”

The spacecraft was built for NASA by defence contractor Lockheed Martin.

The MRO photographs are taken by the HiRISE imager which is operated by the University of Arizona.



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