Science-team members for NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter are soliciting help from the public to analyze exotic features near the south pole of Mars.
By categorizing features visible in images from the orbiter's Context Camera (CTX), volunteers are using their own computers to help the team identify specific areas for even more detailed examination with the orbiter's High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera. HiRISE can reveal more detail than any other camera ever put into orbit around Mars.
Some of Mars resembles deserts on Earth, but polar regions of Mars display some quite unearthly processes and features. These are related to seasonal freezing and thawing of carbon dioxide ice, which does not exist naturally on Earth, but is manufactured and well-known as "dry ice." Every winter the polar regions of Mars are covered with a seasonal polar cap of carbon dioxide ice.
"In the spring the dry ice turns to gas and carves unusual features in the Mars surface, resulting in exotic terrains described informally as 'spiders,' 'Swiss cheese' and 'channel networks,'" said HiRISE Deputy Principal Investigator Candice Hansen, of the Planetary Science Institute.
Planet Four: Terrains is on a new platform released by the Zooniverse, an organization that currently hosts 30 projects that enlist people worldwide to contribute to discoveries in fields ranging from astronomy to zoology. The new platform is designed to make it easier than ever for a researcher needing help with data analysis to set up a task to involve volunteers.
This set of images illustrates the advantage of multiple spatial scales when looking at Mars. The top image was taken by CTX, the context imager on MRO. This full image covers an area of ~30 km x 43 km. Middle image, the Planetfour:Terrains citizen scientists will be presented with a zoomed-in portion of this image, zoomed in to full CTX resolution, in which “spiders” (the colloquial name for araneiform terrain) are clearly identifiable. The bottom image was taken by HiRISE, and shows a close-up of one “spider”, ~400 m wide, in this area.