NASA eyeballs bizarre Mars 'brain terrain'

NASA's MRO catches sight of an unsolved mystery on Mars.

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser
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This "brain terrain" on Mars is a baffler.

NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Maybe we should start calling Mars "The Gray Matter Planet." 

NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter got a look at some seriously strange landscaping. An image shows a series of interconnected troughs and ridges that look like the folds of a brain, earning it the name "brain terrain."

The MRO's HiRise camera team at the University of Arizona on Monday shared a view of brain terrain captured by the spacecraft in December. The researchers refer to it as "one of the unsolved mysteries on Mars."

NASA scientists ogled similar oddball formations in 2013, saying, "This strange-looking surface might be related to flow of the ice, but we still don't have a definite explanation for this mystery." 

The enigma still persists today. The HiRise team offers up one possible hypothesis: that buried water-ice beneath the surface changes from a solid to a gas and forms the troughs in the process. If it's happening, then it's a very slow process. The MRO hasn't detected any significant changes in the brain terrain over time. 

MRO has been in orbit around Mars since 2006 on a mission to document the planet's surface and investigate its history of water. The brain terrain image joins a fascinating lineup of Mars views that includes a crater that looks like Pac-Man and a landscape that's a dead ringer for a '70s shag carpet.

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