KOMPAS.com – Scientists in England played with a large chunk of dry ice to find out what was behind the “spider on Mars” pattern.
The pattern seen in the satellite image is at the Red Planet’s south pole. Of course, it wasn’t a real spider.
Because it is black and there are branches around it, the researchers nicknamed it areneiforms, which means spider-like.
This pattern was discovered more than two decades ago. And since then no one has been able to explain exactly what the pattern is.
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Measuring up to 1 kilometer in size, the gigantic shape does not resemble anything on Earth.
But in a recent study published in the journal Scientific Reports March 19 edition, scientists succeeded in creating a pattern of tiny spiders like Mars in the laboratory.
Reported Live Science, Monday (5/4/2021), experts used carbon dioxide ice sheets or also known as dry ice and machines that simulate the atmosphere of Mars.
When dry ice makes contact with a much warmer layer of Martian-like sediment, some of the ice immediately changes from solid to gas (a process called sublimation), forming spider-like cracks as the gas escaping pushes the ice away.
“This research presents the first set of empirical evidence for surface processes that are thought to change the polar landscape on Mars,” said study lead author Lauren McKeown, a planetary scientist at the Open University in the UK, in a statement.
“Experiments show directly that the spider patterns we observe on Mars from orbit can be engraved by direct conversion of dry ice from solid to gas.”
Mars atmosphere and research
According to NASA, the Martian atmosphere contains more than 95 percent carbon dioxide (CO2).
In addition, there is so much ice and frost made of CO2 forming around the poles of the planet Mars in winter.
In a 2003 study, researchers hypothesized that spiders on Mars could form in the spring, when sunlight penetrates the translucent layer of CO2 ice and heats the soil beneath.
The heating causes the ice to sublimate from its bottom, building up pressure under the ice until it finally cracks.
According to the team’s hypothesis, the gas escapes through the gaps in the gushing smoke, leaving behind the zigzag spider leg pattern seen on Mars today.
Until now, scientists had no way to test this hypothesis on Earth because the atmospheric conditions of the two are so different.
But in the new study, the researchers created tiny chunks of Mars on Earth, using a device called the Open University Mars Simulation Room.
The team placed sediment grains of various sizes in the room, then used a system that resembled the claw machines you see in local arcades to suspend blocks of dry ice on top of the granules.
The team adjusted the room to mimic the atmospheric conditions of Mars, then slowly lowered blocks of dry ice onto the grain.
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Experiments prove that the spider sublimation hypothesis is valid.
Regardless of the size of the sediment grains, dry ice always sublimes on contact with them, and the exiting gas is pushed upward, creating spider-like cracks along the way.
According to the researchers, more branched spider legs appeared when the grains were finer and less when the grains were coarser.
Although uncertain, these experiments provide the first physical evidence showing how spiders on Mars might have formed.