Lauren McKeown Explores Spiders on Mars, Europa in EarthTalks

Pennsylvania State University

Dendritic fractal patterns, like the branching pattern of tree roots or river drainage networks, are common on Earth. Recently, similar patterns have been detected on planetary surfaces such as Mars and Europa, the smallest of the four moons orbiting Jupiter. Mars’ south polar “spiders” are thought to form via a solid-state-greenhouse effect, where gas trapped beneath seasonal carbon dioxide ice rushes towards a vent, scouring the substrate. The origin of a peculiar asterisk-shaped ‘spider’ in Europa’s Manannán crater is uncertain.

Lauren McKeown, a postdoctoral fellow at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, will discuss her experiments to test the formation of Martian “spiders” and present a new hypothesis for the formation of Europa’s Manannán spider, in her talk “Spiders on Mars, Europa and in the Laboratory: Insights for Icy Planetary Surface Processes through Analog Experiments” at 4 p.m., Monday, March. 27. The talk, which is free and open to the public, takes place in 112 Walker Building on the University Park campus.

McKeown’s talk is part of EESI’s spring 2023 EarthTalks speaker series, “Exploration of our Solar System.” We now live in the golden age of solar system exploration. With a dozen NASA missions currently in development – as well as spacecraft actively on Mars, near Jupiter and in the Kuiper belt – the current scale of mission activity is unprecedented and brings forth a new era of comparative study of varied worlds at the systems level. The 2023 spring EarthTalk series is intended to provide a venue for the expansion of participant’s horizons into our solar system.

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