The Baffling Martian "Spiders"
The discovery of complex dendritic networks at Mars’
south pole has left NASA scientists scrambling for answers.
What are these bizarre formations, and how were they
For two years on this website, we
have explored the anomalous surface features of our nearest
planetary neighbor, Mars. No other body outside of the earth
has been more closely examined by planetary scientists than
of a Thousand Mysteries.” Numerous surface features find
no analogy in familiar geology. And even those features
which geologists claim to recognize, when examined in
context and in detail, defy textbook definitions. It is only
necessary to look closely to see that this is so.
The anomalies begin with the most prominent features,
Olympus Mons and
Valles Marineris, but extend to every region of the
Martian surface. The unexplained patterns include (but reach
giant, circular craters with layered terraces,
concentric rings and shallow flat floors; dense (non-random)
populations of craters in regions of
burned and darkened soil; strings of craters placed
amidst sharply cut
scoops and gouges, suggesting material removed by an
“unknown” force; “inconceivable”
spheres and/or domes resting inside craters;
elevated craters whose floors stand higher than
the surrounding terrain; braided, interweaving,
flat-floored channels, revealing no evidence of either
surface faulting or flowing liquid; layers of surface
exhibiting dense populations of bb-sized spherules, called “blueberries,”
apparently occupying the Martian surface by the trillions.
While conventional geologists struggle to explain these
paradoxes, proponents of the Electric Universe view the
Martian landscape as a laboratory in space, demonstrating
the varieties of electrical discharge effects.
As noted in a previous Picture of the Day, Olympus Mons
meets every test of an
anode blister (a discharge effect on a positively
Valles Marineris exhibits the defining features of an
electric arc tearing across a surface. The dense populations
of craters and burnt surfaces are replicated with
laboratory arcs, right down to the central bumps or
peaks. Even the Martian “blueberries”
have been precisely replicated by electric arcs in the lab,
in experiments performed by plasma physicist CJ Ransom. And
when scaled upward, these lab-created “blueberries,” resting
in the center of electrically produced craters, provide a
compelling analog to the “impossible” domed craters on Mars.
Why then have planetary scientists not even noticed the
success of the electrical hypothesis? The reason is that
this hypothesis asks them to consider the theoretically
“unimaginable,” to set aside the foundations of modern
planetary science. It asks them to envision an unstable,
electrically active solar system in the past, when Mars was
engulfed by electrical discharge, its every region carved by
electric arcs raking across its surface.
The electric theorists believe that systematic examination
of the Martian landscape will confirm their hypothesis
beyond any reasonable doubt. And they are eager to test the
predictive ability of the hypothesis at every available
One such opportunity may now be at hand in the case of the
amazing “spiders” on Mars.
Discovered in 1997 by NASA's Mars Global Surveyor, hundreds
of these configurations have been imaged in Mars' south
polar region (the only region where they occur). In each
instance the configurations originate from a single center,
spreading dozens of "branches" over an area that averages
about 985 feet across. (See picture above.) The formations
have left scientists baffled. "We're still scratching our
heads over how these things are forming," says Anthony
Colaprete of NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View,
California. "They’re unlike anything we have on Earth."
Some investigators have suggested that the spiders are
dendritic drainage channels. But one characteristic that
makes the formations so difficult to explain is the way they
"work against" gravity. In fact, the branching occurs
radially from a center, positively excluding a drainage
function. Moreover, the spiders form in identical shapes
irrespective of the terrain. Often, a single ravine is seen
moving both uphill and down. And many of these radial
patterns occur on a consistent incline.
Others suspect that the "spiders" are caused by sublimation
of CO2 hidden under the soil. A variation of this
explanation was proposed in a recent issue of Astronomy
magazine (July, 2006). But CO2 is known to be present in
abundance in south polar regions that do not exhibit
spiders, and throughout the north polar region which
exhibits no spiders. No sublimation process has ever been
observed that produces the consistent branching pattern
Fibonacci branching ) of these bizarre forms.
So what are the Martian "spiders"? Interestingly, there is
an analogy on another planet, but it is never mentioned.
Stretching around the equator of the planet Venus is a vast
display of what planetary scientists call “arachnoids.”
Indeed, these overlying formations display more finely
filamented branching ravines than the “spiders” on Mars. But
there is a reason why planetary scientists have not
concerned themselves with the similarities in both name and
morphology. Why would they compare formative processes at a
frigid pole of Mars with formative processes on Venus, where
temperatures exceed nine hundred degrees Fahrenheit?
In electrical terms, of course, the considerations that
preclude a comparison of Mars and Venus no longer apply.
Therefore, we shall take up the electrical interpretation of
Martian “spiders” in our Picture of the Day for July 26.
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