NASA says this strange 'brain terrain' is a Mars mystery

NASA has shared a new Mars image, but instead of featuring the Red Planet's dusty orange landscape, we're greeted with far more unusual sight: "brain terrain." Scientists gave this mysterious surface its nickname due to its texture, which resembles the color and folds of a brain. The space agency has shared a high-resolution version of the image for the public to download.

The image above was captured over Mars' Protonilus Mensae, though NASA says the brain terrain landscape can be found throughout the Red Planet's mid-latitude regions. The image was captured using the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) instrument on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) spacecraft. The MRO is operating as part of NASA's MRO mission.

A high-resolution version of the brain terrain can be downloaded here.

What causes the unusual appearance? Researchers aren't sure, but they speculate that it may be due to water ice located below the surface. Specifically, and only as a hypothesis at this time, the scientists suspect the buried ice causes the troughs to form as it sublimates, which means when it changes from solid ice into a gas.

Though the MRO spacecraft hasn't captured any "significant changes" to these brain terrains, NASA says it is possible this formation is an active process. There's no clear answer about what causes the unusual appearance at this time, however.

This isn't the first unusual image NASA has shared from the Red Planet. Back in July 2018, the space agency shared a picture featuring what it called "spiders" on Mars, though they weren't actually spiders, of course. Instead, the image features dark spots with tendrils snaking off of them — at first glance, one may be likely to view them as insectoid.