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Spiders are now in Planetary Database

Hi everyone!

Citizen scientists are helping us to find new targets for HiRISE on Planet Four: Terrains. They are looking at CTX images.

I once did a very similar search with Mars Orbital Camera (MOC) images. The camera worked on Mars Global Surveyor from 1997 to 2006. It had 2 sub-systems: a wide-angle camera and a narrow angle camera. The narrow angle camera obtained grayscale images with resolution from 1.5 to 12 m per pixel. It was just good enough to resolve larger spiders and fans.

In 2004 I looked through all MOC images that existed at the time and were located south of latitude -75º. I was hunting for spiders. The result is a list of MOC images that feature spiders and it is now being added to Integrated Database of Planetary Features. It will be available as a layer in JMARS system in a couple of months.

You can see Spiders map on Database of Planetary Features.


When we have a catalog of CTX images with spiders created by you, we will also integrate it into this database! Then everyone can easily navigate around different locations of spider terrains.

HiRISE Targets

We started Planet Four: Terrains with the main goal of finding new regions to study during the upcoming seasonal processes HiRISE campaign. The idea was to have people scour low resolution Context Camera (CTX) images for terrains indicative of sculpting during the seasonal processes  produced by never-ending cycle of  carbon dioxide ice being deposited on the surface in the winter and that ice sublimating in the spring and summer. We would then  select a portion of those areas for further study with high-resolution imaging with HIRISE. With the varied textures of the Martian surface it would be difficult for a machine to do this task, but the human brain is well suited to this task.

We launched Planet Four: Terrains at the end of June as part of the launch of the Zooniverse’s new citizen science platform and project builder portal. Planet Four: Terrains had little less than a year to review 90 full frame CTX images divided into 20,122 subimages or subjects as their known on the website. With your help, the project was able to get through all 20,122 subjects in time, and even put in more images. Thanks to your classifications and Talk discussions, the science team was able to come up with a list of images and locations for further study. We aim to have the HiRSE camera point at these locations and snap images. Some of these locations will be monitored throughout the Southern spring and summer. Right now these locations have been entered in the HiRISE target database. This means that Planet Four: Terrains has successfully achieved one of its prime goals!


One of the new targets of interest found by Planet Four: Terrains that will monitored by HiRISE during the spring and summer on the south pole of Mars starting in the coming months. This subject was classified as part of the second set of CTX images classified on Planet Four: Terrains  Discovery details

Now, Candy Hansen, PI of the project and head of the seasonal processes campaign with HiRISE, will prioritize our  targets with the rest of the regions that the HiRISE team wants to study. The first of these should with any luck get images in the next few months. We’ll keep you updated here on the blog.The final  list of targets from Planet Four: Terrains is  a mix of locations found on Talk and through the classification interface.  We’ll have more details as we get closer to the start of Southern spring (July 5th), but we wanted to share one of the new locales,spotted thanks to the volunteer contributions on Planet Four: Terrains, that will be imaged by HiRISE. This specific region shown above was highlighted on Talk.  It was noticed by the science team, and  we agree it is an interesting area to look at how spiders develop. We’re interested to see how the seasonal fans and blotches over the coming Martian Southern spring and summer. We’re currently planning a sequence of images at this location. CTX has a resolution of 6-8 meters per pixel. HiRISE has a resolution of 30 centimeters per pixel, so we’ll get to see a lot more detail particularly in the structure of the spider channels than what’s current visible in the CTX image above.

This isn’t the end of the project, we’re really just getting stared.  Because of your classifications, we’ve found spiders in interesting and potentially unexpected regions so we’ve decided to keep the project going with new locations to review. Help today at

WeMartians Interview: Citizen Science on Mars

WeMartians is a brand new podcast aimed to engage the public in the exploration of Mars. The latest episode is about citizen science on Mars with  Michael talking about Planet Four and Planet Four: Terrains.  Listen to Michael (and cameos of other familiar Zooniverse voices) below or on the WeMartians website.

Countdown to Picking New Proposed HiRISE Targets

One of the key goals of Planet Four: Terrains is to identify new areas of interest to observe with HiRISE during the seasonal processes campaign so that we better learn about the carbon dioxide geyser process and about how and were spiders and related channels form. You can read more about the particular goals of Planet Four: Terrains here. Over the months we’ve read the discussions and comments on Talk and been making a list of regions to consider from your observations. We’re really intrigued by many of the things you’ve all spotted. Which is fantastic news! Talk has been a huge asset for this work, but we’re also using the classifications from the classification interface as well. I’ve spent the past three weeks putting together a software pipeline to take the multiple classifications per CTX subframe (typically 20 people review each subject image) to identify spiders, baby spiders, channel networks, craters, and the Swiss Cheese Terrain.

Now that the machinery is all together combined with the interesting gems on Talk we’re ready to make our list of proposed new HiRISE monitoring targets. By April 20th I aim t provide the rest of the Planet Four: Terrains science team a compiled list of locations for them to review. Then Anya will input these into the HiRISE planning system where they will be considered with the HiRSE team’s science goals and eventually Candy who wears many hats including Deputy Director of the HiRISE camera and lead of the seasonal processes campaign will prioritize these new areas with the already existing targets in the seasonal processes observing program. We aim to be ready for HiRISE’s first attempt to image the South Pole which is coming up in about 60 days or so.

This is where you come in. We have new images of different areas on the site now. There have already been some interesting images from this set I’ve forwarded to the rest of the team after seeing discussions on Talk. Let’s make a push to classify as much of the new data set as possible before the 18th of April. The more subjects reviewed the greater chance to include those areas at the start of the monitoring campaign. Not to worry though, we’ll also have a few chances to include additional targets later in  the Spring Season to the HiRISE monitoring campaign if need be or to the next one.

If you have a free moment, classify an image or two at


December Science Team Call

I thought for this week’s blog post, I would talk a bit more about what happened in last week’s science team call and what we’ve been up to over the past month or so. Last month was the Division of Planetary Sciences meeting where for the first time, Michael, Candy, Anya, and I have been in a room together. So we had dinner and went through the paper draft and what’s left to do in terms of getting the paper out. Michael’s poster at the meeting showed the first results of the full  pipeline run identifying fans from blotches. So the results of that was also discussed during our meeting.

Most of the time we rely on email and team calls to work together. Right now every two weeks we have an hour call between Michael, Anya, Candy and myself. I think they’ve been really important in helping us work together over such long distances as I’m based in Taipei, Candy is based in Utah, and Michael and Anya live in Colorado. It’s our chance to update each other, talk over issues and stumbling blocks, and talk about the data.

Michael’s been hard at work this year getting all the pieces in place to make the final catalog for Season 1 and Season 2. Overall the software pipeline Michael has built works incredibly well, but we still need to check all the edge cases where we might need to tweak the process. I took the task of going through and checking a subset of subjects with the identified fans and blotches plotted compared to the individual volunteer markings to look for any anomalies or issues with the clustering pipeline. The algorithm Michael’s developed takes your classifications and combines them together to identify where there are fans and blotches and based on how many people used which tool (fan or blotch) we determine if the dark region is a fan or a blotch. I did this review shortly after DPS meeting, and Michael and I filled in the Candy and Anya during the call.

Michael’s now working on implementing some changes to his pipeline, and we’ll take a look at those result soon. Now that we’ve got this first pass from the full pipeline, we can start building the codes to make the plots we want for the first paper and look at the distributions of fans and blotches over time and across the different target regions in Seasons 2 and 3. We spent a good chunk of this month’s call talking about what plots would be the most diagnostic. We also talked about the strategy we wanted to use to compare images with different binning/image resolutions. Anya and Michael are going to work on that over the coming weeks. I’ve got some tasks assigned for the next call as well, including using Michael’s catalog to compare to the gold standard dataset the science team generated.

We also talked about the new text Michael wrote in the paper draft, and set a deadline for the rest of us to read it and give back comments. The next full team call will be in early/mid January. We’re getting closer and closer to having a complete Planet Four science paper ready to submit to a journal.It’s nice to see the progress and watch everything coming together. Thanks for your continued clicks. The hardest part is getting the pipeline complete. Once we have this huge step completed, it means we can rapidly produce catalogs for the entire Planet Four classification database and start working on comparing the mapped observations from  4 Mars years of Manhattan and Inca City that you’ve marked. I’m really looking forward to seeing what we learn from that.

Making Tables

A quick update on the first paper. We’re getting closer to having the final clustering procedure nailed down. Once we’ve got that, we can make the final catalog of markings from Season 2 and Season 3 from the millions of classifications we have gathered over the past few years. While Michael has been working on that, I’ve been working on some of the other tables we need to include for the paper. We know what we’ve done and have good knowledge of the HiRISE data, but we need to make sure it’s clear in the paper so that any researcher or reader has all the information needed to use the catalog of fans and blotches we’re generating thanks to your clicks. To do that we’re going to put in a table that summarizes all the relevant info about the HiIRSE observations from Seasons 2 and Season 3.

The easiest way I found to do this is to grab this information from the headers of the reduced single HiRISE images non-map projected images with the spacecraft pointing information that we created from the raw HiRISE observations. The HiRISE team reduction pipeline produces the three color band mosaics that we dice up and show on but since they don’t include the spacecraft information we had to  build a single filter version ourselves where we added a few steps to the process that would allow the information needed to get the location on the South pole and the spacecraft information into the image headers. This is what Chuhong worked on last summer.

So I took a script written by Gauri adapted from Chuhong’s code to get the other relevant info like imaging scale, north azimuth, solar longitude from the single filter image headers and stick it in a mysql  (a database interface language/setup) table.Then I spent a bit of time writing a code to read the table I created and output it in the format needed for the paper. We’re writing the paper in a format known as LaTeX. I spent an afternoon getting the format correct so that table file would compile. You can glimpse part of the results (the first few lines of the multi-page table) below. I still need to reduce the number of decimal places outputted in certain columns, but the basic information is there. We’ll be including a version of this table in the paper text or supplementary material.


Boulders and a Planet Four Summer

Today we have the last  post from Gauri Sharma who is spent her summer working on Planet Four as part of the ASIAA Summer Student Program.  Gauri gave a talk at the end of August detailing her work with boulders and developing a pipeline to find the same position in one Planet Four image in others shown on the site. Below Gauri presents her talk slides and her project. Thanks Gauri for all your help this Summer!

I am gonna introduce you some of the features found on Mars’ South Pole and tools used to study these features. I will also tell quick logical science behind those features according my research in these last two months.

This slide tells you how Mars similar and differ from the Earth.

During the winter on South pole a, CO2 ice slab forms over the pole is nearly translucent and ~1m thick. When the ice slab forms, it comprises of frozen carbon dioxide and dust and dirt from the atmosphere. Below the ice sheet is layer of dust and dirt.

When the spring comes sunlight penetrates the CO2 ice slab, and the base of the ice cap gets heated. The temperature of the ice at the base  increases causes CO2 sublimation. Sublimation of CO2 creates a trapped pressurized gas bubble beneath the ice layers, These beneath pressurized gas bubbles continuously pushes the upper layers of ice and at one point ice slabs get crack and pressurized gases vent out. A jet like eruption or geyser takes place. It is thought that material (dirt and dust) from below the ice sheet which has been taken by pressurized gas is brought up the surface of the ice sheet and is blown by the surface wind into a fan shape.

It is prediction, just after eruption Geysers supposed to look like this.

When there is enough wind on surface to blown the geysers material fans appears on surface and surface looks like fig1.
If wind is not much effective or not blown then geysers material deposits near the geyser source and a black spot appears on surface called blotches (shown in fig2).

Also during the spring and summer when the geysers are active, the trapped carbon dioxide gas before it breaks out from under the ice sheet is though to slowly remove material and carve channels in the dirt surface. In the mid summer when CO2 fully get vaporized channels are empty cracks. This is annual process of over time produces erosion on surface and channel network looks like spiders (or their official name araneiform).

In every spring and summer season, hundreds of thousands of fans wax and wanes on the Martian South Pole. These features have been captured by then HiRISE camera. HiRISE camera is onboard on Mars reconnaissance orbiter since 2005.

These are the sample images captured by HiRISE camera.
During analyzing of these images, scientists found difficulties, Automated computer routines have not been able to accurately identify and outline the individual feature. But scientists thought a human eye eventually can distinguish and outline these features and shape them. So, A group of scientists created Planet four website purposefully for research on Mars by public help.

FP.009 FP.010
This is how, Planet Four website looks like. Working with Planet Four is very easy, just sign up in Planet Four website and take in part of classify shapes on surface. Before getting started they provides a short intro to let you know “How to mark, and useful tools to classify features”. Volunteer classification are collected together and researchers combines these classifications (markings), and they found these markings produces an extremely reliable, fruitful results about features founds on Mars surface.

In slide 10, we seen Planet four images looks different from real images taken by HiRISE camera. Since HiRISE image is huge in size. So for proper analysis and accurate outlining Planet Four team made sub images of HiRISE images and kept them in Planet Four website, we call them tiles.


For my project Planet Four was one of the most important tool. I use Planet Four tiles to examine boulders. Boulders are one of the more interesting objects on Mars surface, and in the South Pole regions monitored by HiRISE only one area seems to have boulders. This region has been dubbed ‘Inca City.’ The boulders in Inca City are likely impact produced. Boulders are Interesting because we think they can help be a heat source of geysers formation. I am looking at how fans are associated with boulders more often than not and has been captured by HiRISE. I studied how surrounding of boulders changes time by time, are they really takes part as the source of geyser formation”.

I chooses some 35 tiles those contains BOULDERS and marked all BOULDERS (shown in fig2). After marking Planet Four provides a makings csv file. That contain your marked BOULDER x and y position and corresponding tile name.

To analysis surrounding of  BOULDERS over a time, I need to search over the HiRISE 5year database with the help of markings csv received by Planet Four. Since HiRISE database contain more than 1 lacks tiles. Doing search manually and find useful data and then calculate information, collect belonging files and group them for looking yearly changes seems terrible.
So for this purpose I created a pipeline that can do all this in seconds. This is a very powerful pipeline that Planet Four team doesn’t have  before me.

These are the results of my pipelines.
Images in blue box clearly shows, During a season as the month changes surrounding of boulders changes (fans wax and wanes) boulders gets covered with fans material and in next season again boulder start visible.,,,

FP.017 FP.017 FP.018 FP.019

FP.020 FP.021 FP.022 FP.023

A Planet Four Science Poster

ASIAA, my institute in Taiwan had its 5 year external review where a panel of experts in the field  from outside the institute come in and give a critique and highlight both the positive things that are going well and also the potential areas to be strengthened.  At this review there was a poster session for postdocs and other researchers to present their projects. Last week was the poster session. I gave an update on Planet Four and presented Planet Four: Terrains. I thought I’d share (typos and all) the poster with you.  You might find that some of the figures are familiar and that you’ve seen them on this very blog in one form or another.

Click on the image to get a higher resolution versionSchwamb_P4_poster_preview

Summer Student 2015 Update: Coding with Loading

Today we have a  post from Gauri Sharma who will be working on Planet Four this summer as part of the ASIAA Summer Student Program.

So the second week has passed in the ASIAA Summer program. I would like to call this week “coding with loading.”  This past week, I played with python. Don’t be scared, I will reiterate for you again it is not a snake, it’s a kind of language like java, C, C++ etc.

As the week was running likewise my work was also running. On the 3rd day of week, my supervisor said “let’s go and have some drink”. It sounds so awesome right!, I was thinking: ” Yipee! I am going to spend some time with my supervisor “. But beside all this imagination, I am gonna tell you truth. No doubt that was the wow time but along with that I got full week tasks. And finally I got all those tasks, that what I wanted to get completed. This is called ‘loading.’ Now time to talk about coding…

On 17 July, again meeting with Meg, and fully working on debugging my code. Oh! My God, my code!! full of errors. She spent almost 2 hours with me. In between more than two time My Mind said: ” Gauri Sharma you gone, she is gonna kick you in few mins, you wasted this much of her time”. I was literally soo scared. But we got through the debugging (and she didn’t kick me).

Before I tell, what’s the use of my code.  I would like to let you know some key points like HiRISE image and Planet Four images. HiRISE images: High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) is a camera on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter , which allows it to take pictures of Mars with resolutions of 0.3 m/pixel. So that, image is so big that HiRISE images are diced  into tiles (Planet Four images) that are shown on the Planet Four website that you classify.  Right now, I am working to correlate Planet Four images to full HiRISE images, so I can easily find out a particular interesting area in the larger HiRISE image. So now I can tell you, my code works by converting Planet Four image (x, y) position into HiRISE_image (x, y) pixel position.

There is a  happy ending, my first master code is working. And as usual Meg always makes me happy and her line ” you are making progress ” always left a pretty smile on my face and helps me keep calm and cool in such a HOT Summer of Taipei.

Then, I moved forwarded for new task, I got in my loading season .This new code has taken much more time then expected, but it is finally done. It works by  “converting corners of Planet Four image (x, y) position into corners of HiRISE image (x, y) pixel position. So on Monday, I am ready with my second master code. I gather so much python tricks, finally I am enjoying with them. One thing , I would like to say for coding, “its awesome!, its kind of magic!!!!”

That’s all for this week. See you next week.

Why we need Planet Four: Terrains?

Hi there!

I want to talk why we created the new project Planet Four: Terrains if we have Planet Four already.

The very high resolution images of HiRISE camera are really impressive and one might think that there is no reason to use a camera with lower resolution anymore. Wrong!

First, high resolution of HiRISE image means large data volume. To store on-board and to download large data from MRO spacecraft to Earth is slow (and expensive) and this means we are always limited in the number of images HiRISE can take. We will never cover the whole surface of Mars with the best HiRISE images. Sadly. so we use different cameras for it. Some – with very rough resolution and some – intermediate, like context camera (CTX). We can use CTX, for example, to gain statistics on how often one or the other terrain type appears in the polar areas. This is one point why Planet Four: Terrains is important.

Second, because HiRISE is used for targeted observations, we need to know where to point it! And we better find interesting locations to study. We can not say “let’s just image every location in the polar regions!” not only for the reason 1 above, but also because we work in a team of scientists and each of them has own interests and surely would like his/her targets to be imaged as well. We should be able to prove to our colleagues that the locations we choose are truly interesting. To show a low-resolution image and point to an unresolved interesting terrain is one of the best ways to do that. And then, when we get to see more details we will see if it is an active area and if we need to monitor it during different seasons.

Help us classify terrains visible in CTX images with Planet Four: Terrains at