Scientists discover mystery behind ‘Mars spiders’

Irish researchers presented the first proof of the real meaning of “Mars spiders”. According to the study, the arachnid-shaped shadows are derived from the dry ice present on the Martian soil turning into gas. The idea was proven by scientists at Trinity College Dublin by recreating the atmosphere of the red planet in the laboratory.

According to research published in late March in the journal Scientific Reports, scientists were able to create smaller versions of formations in a laboratory by pressing dry ice against warmer sediments in an atmosphere similar to that of Mars, which generated marks similar to those of Mars. Martian “spiders” as the ice sublimated and protruded outward.


The patterns that formed after the experiment.
Image: Reproduction / McKeown et al., Sci Rep, 2021

“This research presents the first set of empirical evidence for a surface process that can modify the polar landscape of Mars,” said Open University planetary scientist and lead author of the study, Lauren McKeown. “The experiments directly show that the spider patterns that we see on Mars in orbit can be sculpted by the direct conversion of dry ice from solid to gaseous,” he added.

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Irish researchers obtained the first evidence of the already known “Kieffer hypothesis”, in which geophysicist Hugh Kieffer and his colleagues proposed that the frozen carbon dioxide undergoes sublimation during the spring of the red planet. And as the state changes from solid to gaseous, the compost heats up and expands, breaking the surface ice so the gas can get out. The process causes the ejected gas to leave behind the channels known as the “spiders of Mars”.

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