Its real name is the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter but it will forever be known as Ziggy after this joint project of the European Space Agency and Roscosmos sent to search for methane (a sign of life) on Mars instead peered through the stardust and spotted a giant blue spider, which is actually a row of smaller spiders, which makes it … you guessed it … Ziggy’s band! So where were the spiders before Ziggy arrived and what exactly are they?
“The Colour and Stereo Surface Imaging System (CaSSIS) on board the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) was developed by an international team led by Prof. Nicolas Thomas of the Center for Space and Habitability (CSH) at the University of Bern. The TGO launched three years ago today, on 14 March 2016. It arrived at Mars on 19 October that year, and spent over a year demonstrating the aerobraking technique needed to reach its science orbit, starting its prime mission at the end of April 2018.”
The announcement was made in a press release from the University of Bern where the fabulous color camera on the TGO was developed. Demonstrating the difficulties and precision required to obtain high-quality 3D and 2D photographs and scientific scans of the Martian surface, the TGO needed over a year to brake its speed and adjust its orbit to just the right spot. In this case, that spot is over the Elysium Planitia region of Mars where NASA’s InSight lander touched down in November 2108 and is now busy hammering the surface of the planet -- drilling holes, stirring up dust and attracting sandworms. This is the first time an ESA orbiter has located any Martian lander, so it was a big deal to its controllers, who are working with NASA to beam data from InSight back to Earth.
The panchromatic image showcased in parts on the press release (see them here) and the ESA announcement (see it here) was taken March 2, 2019, and covers an area of about 2.25 x 2.25 km (1.4 by 1.4 miles) and shows a dark spot burned by the lander’s retro rockets just before touchdown as well as its discarded heat shield and backshell. Also in the gallery are previous photos of unusual craters, polar layered deposits and dynamic dunes.
Yeah, yeah, yeah … so where were the spiders?
“This remarkable ‘Dust devil frenzy’ image was taken in the Terra Sabaea region of Mars, west of Augakuh Vallis. This mysterious pattern sits on the crest of a ridge and is thought to be the result of dust devil activity – essentially the convergence of hundreds or maybe even thousands of smaller Martian tornadoes.”
This false-color image of what looks like blue spiders in the Terra Sabaea region were caused by dust devils, a common Martian weather activity. The “false color” technique was used to highlight the spiders, which in fact would be a harder-to-see dark red because they’re simply exposed areas of deeper Martian soil.
Like the Spiders from Mars, this band of spiders will eventually break up, but not because of the kids killing the man. Martian windblown dust devils created the swirls and new dust devils will blow them away. The good news is, this means there are plenty of other spiders on Mars to discover with CaSSIS and future high-res space cameras.
David would be so proud.