Strange Honeycomb Pattern on Mars Appears to Be Formed by Water Ice And CO2

This Martian terrain resembles a lacy honeycomb or a spider web when viewed from orbit. The odd polygonal shapes, however, aren't made by bees or spiders on Mars; rather, they are the result of a year-round process of seasonal change made of water ice and carbon dioxide.

Since entering Mars orbit in 2006, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's HiRISE camera (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) has captured several images of polygonal formations.

According to the HiRISE scientific team, the surface of Mars at high latitudes is significantly shaped by both water and carbon dioxide in the solid form of dry ice.

The earth is divided into polygonal forms by water ice that has frozen in the soil. Then, when the earth warms in the spring, dry ice that is just below the surface sublimates, causing even more erosion and forming channels around the polygonal edges.

As the near-surface ice shrinks and grows periodically over several years, polygons are formed.

However, the blue fan-shaped patterns in this polygon-covered area indicate much more springtime activity. The thin layer of translucent dry ice that covers the surface, according to scientists, develops vents that let gas escape.

"The gas carries along fine particles of material from the surface further eroding the channels," the team wrote on the HiRISE website.

"The particles drop to the surface in dark fan-shaped deposits. Sometimes the dark particles sink into the dry ice, leaving bright marks where the fans were originally deposited. Often the vent closes, then opens again, so we see two or more fans originating from the same spot but oriented in different directions as the wind changes." 

Because these characteristics give information on temperature conditions as well as the current and previous distribution of ices in the shallow subsurface, scientists investigate the polygonally patterned ground on Mars.

And polygons are not just seen on Mars. The polar and Antarctic areas of Earth have polygons, and Pluto also has polygons, as the New Horizons probe discovered during its 2015 encounter.

A large, crater-free plain that looks to be no older than 100 million years old and may still be being molded by geological processes may be found at the center left of Pluto's enormous heart-shaped feature, which is known colloquially as the "Tombaugh Regio."

Sputnik Planum (Sputnik Plain), named after Earth's first artificial satellite, is a frozen area north of Pluto's ice highlands. The surface appears to be segmented into polygonal sections, each of which is surrounded by a shallow dip.

There are also features that resemble fields of tiny holes and clusters of mounds. This picture was taken on July 14 from a distance of 48,000 miles by the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) (77,000 kilometers).

There are objects seen that are only half a mile (1 kilometer) wide. Some features have a blocky look because to the image's compression.

This article was originally published by Universe Today. Read the original article.