A periodic array structure on the cell surface of Caulobacter crescentus CB15 was revealed by electron microscopy of the cell envelope, using negative staining, thin-sectioning, and freeze-etching. This structural layer has been isolated from liquid cultures, in which large pieces of the two-dimensional array are shed by cells grown to high density. Often areas of intact array corresponding to the entire cell surface could be found. The hexagonally arranged structure was highly ordered and had an unusual degree of complexity, as determined by optical diffraction and computer processing of micrographs of negatively stained, isolated surface array. Filtered, reconstructed images were obtained from both normal and low-electron-dose micrographs demonstrating resolutions of 2.9 and 25 nm, respectively. Comparison by optical diffraction and image filtering of micrographs recorded by using either normal or minimal beam exposure techniques suggested that the lower-resolution features of the image are very stable to electron exposure. Gel electrophoresis indicated that isolated array preparations contain a number of polypeptides. It appears likely that more than one of these proteins are structural components of the array, in contrast to a single protein found in many bacterial surface arrays. The Caulobacter surface array is also unusual in that the repeated units are widely spaced with no apparent direct connection. Computer spatial averaging provided information about the shape and complexity of the connecting elements, and this was compared with some additional electron microscopic evidence of linking structures. Thin-sectioning studies confirmed the image features seen by other techniques, but the addition of tannic acid in the fixation procedure was required to visualize the structure. A comparison of these results with out current knowledge of the Caulobacter cell envelope suggests interesting questions about the biogenesis of this membrane structure and its involvement in the cell development process of this organism.