Unfortunately, David Bowie was wrong about spiders on Mars, despite this exciting new image of what appears to a giant blue tarantula on the Martian surface. In reality, the image in false colors shows a series of paths produced by the Martian dust devils. The photo is one of many captured by Europe ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, some of which have been released today for our viewing pleasure.
The ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) arrived on Mars in October 2016, but did not enter its low orbit around the planet until February 2018, with scientific operations starting a couple of months later. This project is managed by the European Space Agency (ESA) and by Roscosmos and its main mission is to hunt trace gases such as methane to help scientists better understand the capacity of the red planet – or previous capacity – of promote life.
But TGO arrived on Mars with a rather excellent camera known as the Surface Imaging System (CaSSIS), which it is using to explore the surface of Mars from the orbit. CaSSIS is one of a kind because it can use its camera to produce crystal clear, high-resolution 3D images, in addition to traditional 2D images. A new series of images published today is a good example of what TGO can do.
A false color image of the Terra Sabaea region of Mars shows a set of features very similar to spider on the surface. In reality they are the traces left by the dust devils, a meteorological phenomenon frequent on Mars. This model was observed on the crest of a ridge, and is "essentially the convergence of hundreds or perhaps even thousands of small Martian tornadoes", according to ESA. The image was shown in a composite color view to highlight the surface features. Its real color, said the ESA, would be dark red, since the dust devils expose fresh material from beneath the surface.
The TGO has also identified the InSight lander of NASA, previously photographed by the NASA Reconnaissance Orbiter. This is the first photo captured by InSight from ExoMars, and marks the first time that a European probe has identified a Mars lander, according to a press release from ESA. This grayscale image was taken on March 2, 2019 – at exactly the same time as the probe was hammering, albeit futilely, on the surface of Mars (the seeker remained stuck on an apparent rock, and NASA is currently trying to understand what to do- and no, the pull-out method is not an option.
The image shows an area slightly larger than 2 square kilometers.InSight is a small grain all "inside the dark spot, the last of which was produced by the probe's retrorockets during the touchdown. The windshield and spacecraft parachute can be seen nearby.
Interestingly, TGO and InSight are companions
"TGO is used to relay data from InSight to Earth," said Nicolas Thomas, principal investigator of the CaSSIS, in a press release from the University of Bern. "Because of this function, for to avoid uncertainty in communications, we have not been able to point the camera at the landing site so far – we had to wait for the landing site to pass directly under the spaceship to obtain this image. "
The activity detected by the InSight's seismometer could be a signal that a meteorite crashed nearby. If this happens, TGO would look for the relative impact crater.
Other images include the edge of a stratified mound in Burrough crater near the Martian south pole. Dust and ice have formed layers in the crater for hundreds of millions of years, although the origin of the ice in the crater is somewhat mysterious.
The image above shows a one kilometer wide crater inside the Columbus Crater, 100 kilometers wide, located in the southern hemisphere of Mars. The light band on the bottom of the image is composed of various hydrated minerals, including sulphate salts.
The image above shows the creamy surface of the Hellas basin, demonstrating the geological variability of the planet sometimes not so red.  The floor of the Kibuye crater in the Terra Sirenum region of Mars.
Other images published today, available here, show new surface features, deposits of polar layers, dunes and landscapes with dynamic topologies, which scientists will use to decipher the geological history of Mars. Some are even in stereoscopic view, so open the 3D glasses.
[University of Bern, ESA]