Recent photos from Curiosity, a robotic car-sized rover that cruises around the Martian surface while controlled by the Earthlings at NASA, depict a series of rippling sand dunes on Mars.
The rover's mission is to determine if Mars could ever have supported life. In the meantime, it sends back footage of the Martian environment looks like, and Mars has plenty of dunes, including those pictured here.
"This is the first opportunity scientists have had to study active sand dunes on Mars," Emily Lakdawalla, senior editor at the nonprofit Planetary Society, told Motherboard. She had posted Curiosity's photos of the sand dunes on her Twitter page Monday morning.
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The sand dunes' linear formation shows that winds are blowing differently here than in another region of the planet, where previous footage had shown dunes that were barchan, or crescent, in shape, Lakdawalla said.
Mars has wind, though not as powerful as hurricane-force blasts here on Earth, according to NASA. "Its atmosphere is a lot thinner than Earth's, but you can see sand dunes and sand ripples everywhere," she said. From Curiosity's pictures, you can see that the wind moved the sand grains from day to day, Lakdawalla added, since they aren't positioned the same way over a series of images.
"What [the scientists controlling Curiosity] will do here is reach out and scoop up some sand," she said, in order to study its composition. The sand in the recent pictures is a different color than previously photographed rocks, since it's made up of darker minerals, Lakdawalla explained. "And partially that's because it's not covered by all the red dust that's everywhere else on Mars. It's an active dune, so the dust hasn't settled on it."
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