Planet Four: Terrains -- Discovery of araneiforms outside of the South Polar layered deposits


We present the results of a systematic mapping of seasonally sculpted terrains on the South Polar region of Mars with the Planet Four: Terrains (P4T) online citizen science project. P4T enlists members of the general public to visually identify features in the publicly released Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Context Camera (CTX) images. In particular, P4T volunteers are asked to identify: (1) araneiforms (including features with a central pit and radiating channels known as spiders'); (2) erosional depressions, troughs, mesas, ridges, and quasi-circular pits characteristic of the South Polar Residual Cap (SPRC) which we collectively refer to as Swiss cheese terrain', and (3) craters. In this work we present the distributions of our high confidence classic spider araneiforms and Swiss cheese terrain identifications in 90 CTX images covering 11% of the South polar regions at latitudes $łeq$ −75° N. We find no locations within our high confidence spider sample that also have confident Swiss cheese terrain identifications. Previously spiders were reported as being confined to the South Polar Layered Deposits (SPLD). Our work has provided the first identification of spiders at locations outside of the SPLD, confirmed with high resolution HiRISE (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) imaging. We find araneiforms on the Amazonian and Hesperian polar units and the Early Noachian highland units, with 75% of the identified araneiform locations in our high confidence sample residing on the SPLD. With our current coverage, we cannot confirm whether these are the only geologic units conducive to araneiform formation on the Martian South Polar region. Our results are consistent with the current CO2 jet formation scenario with the process exploiting weaknesses in the surface below the seasonal CO2 ice sheet to carve araneiform channels into the regolith over many seasons. These new regions serve as additional probes of the conditions required for channel creation in the CO2 jet process.

Michael Aye
Michael Aye
Research Scientist in Planetary Science

My research interests include remote sensing of surfaces, related machine learning studies and open source software.