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Trinity scientists solve mystery of ‘spiders from Mars’ formations 

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Araneiforms on the surface of Mars. Photo: Nasa

Araneiforms on the surface of Mars. Photo: Nasa

Araneiforms on the surface of Mars. Photo: Nasa

Researchers at Trinity College Dublin believe they have solved the mystery surrounding the strange ‘spider-like’ formations found on the surface of Mars.

The so-called ‘spiders from Mars’ on the Red Planet known as araneiforms, are strange-looking patterns on the planet’s surface that look like tree branches or fork lightning.

"These features, which are not found on Earth, are believed to be carved into the Martian surface by dry ice changing directly from solid to gas (sublimating) in the spring,” a spokesperson for the team said. 

The Trinity team, along with colleagues at Durham University and the Open University in the UK, conducted a series of experiments at the Open University’s Mars Simulation Chamber “ to investigate whether patterns similar to Martian spiders could form by dry ice sublimation.”

Former TCD head researcher Dr Lauren McKeown said: “This research presents the first set of empirical evidence for a surface process that is thought to modify the polar landscape on Mars. The experiments show directly that the spider patterns we observe on Mars from orbit can be carved by the direct conversion of dry ice from solid to gas. It is exciting because we are beginning to understand more about how the surface of Mars is changing seasonally today.”

“This innovative work supports the emergent theme that the current climate and weather on Mars has an important influence not only on dynamic surface processes, but also for any future robotic and/or human exploration of the planet,” added TCD Geography Prof Dr Mary Bourke who oversaw the research.

The findings were published yesterday in the nature journal Scientific Reports.

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