Giant Ferns of Antoniadi

NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

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.

Explore the cracked and cratered land­scape on Mars. What sto­ries or pic­tures do you see? Leave a note in the com­ments below.

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.

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