NASA’s Curiosity Rover Discovers Sand Dunes on Mars

NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover has discovered some wind-sculpted sand ripples at the “Bagnold Dunes” on the northwestern flanks of the Mount Sharp. Such mid-sized sand dunes are not found on Earth. Curiosity rover started its investigation of the Martian sand ripples six months ago and reached distinct mid-sized ripples on Mars.

Mathieu Lapotre, a graduate student at Caltech in Pasadena, California and science team collaborator for the Curiosity mission in a statement said, “Earth and Mars both have big sand dunes and small sand ripples, but on Mars, there’s something in between that we don’t have on Earth.” Lapotre is the lead author of the mid-sized ripples study report that was published in the journal Science on 1st July.

Mars and Earth, both planets true sand dunes which are typically larger than a football field and the curiosity team has confirmed that these sand dunes are formed due to blowing wind over the sand. They mention these ripples as wind-drag ripples.

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Scientists at NASA hope that the relation of sand dunes with Mars’ thick atmosphere will discover more about the evolution of the Mars’ atmosphere. Unlike the present atmosphere of Mars, it have even more thicker atmosphere which could have eventually become thin due to the size of the ripples on planet.

Curiosity Rover has taken pictures of sand dunes from the orbit, at 10 feet apart from their surface. Now, the Study of Bagnold Dunes revealed that the sand dunes on Mars could be several times larger than the impact ripples on Earth.

“As Curiosity was approaching the Bagnold Dunes, we started seeing that the crest lines of the meter-scale ripples are sinuous,” Lapotre added. “That is not like impact ripples, but it is just like sand ripples that form under moving water on Earth. And we saw that superimposed on the surfaces of these larger ripples were ripples the same size and shape as impact ripples on Earth.”

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Scientists say that dunes and ripples were earlier found on Titan, Venus and on the 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko comet, which does not match the Mars’ dunes. Researchers have examined the ripple textures preserved in sandstone for above 3 billion years. They found that these wind-drag ripples are of same size as newer ones on active dunes.

Curiosity Project Scientist Ashwin Vasavada, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena stated, “During our visit to the active Bagnold Dunes, you might almost forget you’re on Mars, given how similar the sand behaves in spite of the different gravity and atmosphere.” He also added that these mid-sized dunes are reminders of how Mars is different from Earth.

The Curiosity rover at the lower region of the Mount Sharp is trying to investigate the conditions of the Martian environment. The mission is initiated to understand how and when ancient environment evolved from being life sustaining into the drier and less habitable.