The Baffling Martian Spiders (2)
“spiders” on Mars show all of the expected features of an
electric discharge in its classic form as a Lichtenberg
In a previous
picture of the day, we noted the presence of hundreds of
fascinating and bizarre formations called “spiders” at the
south pole of Mars. We also noted that since the discovery
of these formations a few years ago—and despite the best
efforts of planetary scientists—they have evaded scientific
We did, however, draw a comparison with the “arachnoids” on
Venus – overlying “spidery” formations stretching around the
In an earlier TPOD on the Venusian arachnoids, we drew
attention to an electrical formation called a “Lichtenberg
figure” (above image on the left). In 1777, the German
scientist Christoph Lichtenberg discovered that dust
settling on a cake of non-conducting resin, when subjected
to an electric spark, produced starlike patterns. Later,
other pioneers found that these Lichtenberg Figures could be
recorded directly on film as a two dimensional photograph of
discharge streamers. The positive and negative surfaces in a
discharge produce quite different formations.
If planetary scientists will consider the role of
electricity in solar system history, Lichtenberg figures
will become an important diagnostic tool. The paths of
cosmic discharges across planetary surfaces will account for
many features erroneously attributed to erosion by flowing
liquids or to rifting of the surface by internal stresses.
Lichtenberg figures in three-dimensions may provide insights
into the morphology of mountain ranges, ridges, and gullies
such as the arachnoids on Venus, the great crater
Aristarchus on the Moon and numerous counterparts on other
rocky bodies. This would include the so-called “drainage
channels” on Saturn’s moon Titan.
Interestingly, it appears that none of the prolific
discussions of the Martian spiders includes the word
“Lichtenberg,” or the word “electric,” despite the
bafflement of researchers. If nothing else, the absence of
such discussion can only underscore the narrowing of vision
in the twentieth century, as the theoretical sciences
enshrined the electrically sterile universe.
In electrical terms, it is probably not a coincidence that
the Lichtenberg figures are concentrated in a polar region,
though the specific type of scarring of the Martian south
pole needs to be explored.
The unique branching pattern of the “spiders,” called
Fibonacci branching, is in fact precisely matched by
Lichtenberg figures. While some have suggested that the
“spiders” are dendritic drainage channels, both the
Lichtenberg patterns and the “spiders” radiate from a
center, making the distinction between such patterns and
drainage channels obvious.
Like the “spiders,” the branching of a Lichtenberg figure
will be largely indifferent to topography. And it is only to
be expected that the ravines of such formations would not
follow terrain in the fashion of flowing liquid.
Strictly speaking, the suggestion of one investigator that
the spiders are “unlike anything we have on Earth,” is not
correct. We have placed
here a picture of the pattern left by a lightning strike
on a golf course. Decades ago, it was engineer Ralph
Juergens who cited this pattern of a lightning blast in
connection with the morphology of
Aristarchus on the Moon.
We note as well that the electrical explanation also
accounts for the presence of burnt soil in virtually every
instance observed—a common feature of discharge scarring.
In other words, the electrical interpretation removes each
and every difficulty planetary scientists have faced in
studying the Martian “spiders. But there is more to the
mystery, and in our Picture of the Day for July 28, we will
take up the remaining questions.
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