Earthlings Crowdsource the Search for Martian 'Spiders'


These Martian spiders don't exactly stick to the eight-legged rule. NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona
These Martian spiders don't exactly stick to the eight-legged rule. NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

It's October, which means it's time to celebrate the creepy-crawlies. And what better way to do that than to help scientists identify spiders on Mars? Except, when it comes to Martian life, "spider" has a different definition, and it doesn't involve arachnids skittering all over the red planet.

But here's what does exist on Mars: weird terrain. And some of the terrain in the planet's south pole contains features called "spiders," which are converging channels caused by the sublimation of ice and eroded deposits. They may resemble a small depression, with "arms" sticking out. (There are also baby spiders — with shorter "arms" — and "Swiss cheese," which are pits in the carbon dioxide of the ice cap, along with a few other categories.) The thing is, there's a lot of terrain to study, and not a ton of scientists to do it.

So Zooniverse — which enlists everyday people to help with big research projects — set up a website where citizen scientists like you can help map Mars' south pole, and the strange terrain that goes with it. Go on the site to browse pictures of Mars' terrain, and then classify it according to the categories provided. You'll be helping researchers get a comprehensive catalog of the Martian landscape and how it's evolved, with the bonus of feeling like that advanced astrobiologist you may or may not already be.

Martian spiders not your thing? Zooniverse has many projects that researchers are looking for help with, whether it's watching videos of the lesser long-nosed bat or transcribing the words of Shakespeare's contemporaries