Dark branches resembling giant ferns cross the floor of Antoniadi Crater in this <a title=“Branched features on the floor of Antoniadi Crater” target=” href=“http://www.uahirise.org/ESP_012725_2015”>image from the HiRISE camera aboard NASA‘s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
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While the landscape resembles fossilized ferns, these branching features are many kilometers in size and are made up of minerals that are resistant to wind erosion. Scientists think these features formed on a wetter Mars. The stubby branches resemble a process on Earth called groundwater sapping where spring water seeps into the ground at the head of the channel causing the ground to collapse. As this process repeats itself, the channel grows upstream. Over billions of years of wind erosion, the surrounding landscape eroded away leaving the harder fossilized stream beds to rise above the surrounding terrain. Where once was a valley, a ridge now exists. The cracked surface is similar to other locations on Mars that scientists know contain hydrated minerals such as clay.
Because of evidence that water flowed through this area, NASA scientists considered Antoniadi Crater, named after French astronomer Eugène Michael Antoniadi, a possible landing site for the Mars Science Laboratory, or the Curiosity Rover, that successfully landed on Mars on August 6. One of the missions of the mobile science lab is to search for evidence of past life on Mars that probably consisted of microorganisms.