Mars Needs You! Help Scientists Track Spring Thaw On Red Planet

We’ve been watching Mars with spacecraft for about 50 years, but there’s still so little we know about the Red Planet. Take this sequence of images in this post recently taken by a powerful camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Spring arrives in the southern hemisphere and produces a bunch of mysteries, such as gray-blue streaks you can see in a picture below.

That’s where citizen scientists can come in, according to a recent post for the University of Arizona’s High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera that took these pictures. They’re asking people with a little spare time to sign up for Planet Four (a Zooniverse project) to look at mysterious Mars features. With amateurs and professionals working together, maybe we’ll learn more about these strange changes you see below.

On Aug. 20, 2014, Martian dust mounds are on top of the araneiforms in ‘Inca City’, as well as dark areas on the terrain showing where the ice cap in the southern hemisphere burst and sent gas and dust into the surroundings. Fans in the area are pointing in multiple directions, showing how the wind has changed. Image taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s HiRISE camera. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona
On Aug. 25, 2014, more fans and blotches appear on the Martian landscape around “Inca City”, a location in the southern polar region, as the ice bursts in the springtime sun. Image obtained by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s HiRISE camera. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona
As of Sept. 6, 2014, fans in “Inca City” in the Martian southern hemisphere are now blue-gray. Why this color appears in the spring is unknown. It could be because of particles falling into ice underneath, or gas bursting from the ice condensing and falling as frost. It could even be a combination of the two. Image taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s HiRISE orbiter. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona
As spring takes hold in the southern polar region of Mars on Sept. 27, 2014, cracks are now developing in the ice at “Inca City” with multiple new dust fans appearing. Cracks develop when the ice does not have a path to easily rupture and release gas. Picture taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s HiRISE camera. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona
Elizabeth Howell

Elizabeth Howell is the senior writer at Universe Today. She also works for, Space Exploration Network, the NASA Lunar Science Institute, NASA Astrobiology Magazine and LiveScience, among others. Career highlights include watching three shuttle launches, and going on a two-week simulated Mars expedition in rural Utah. You can follow her on Twitter @howellspace or contact her at her website.

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