Mars Sand Dunes Are Unlike Anything Seen On Earth, Curiosity Rover Discovers

First Posted: Jul 04, 2016 04:20 AM EDT

The Curiosity Rover has reportedly captured images of strange sand formations that are neither dunes nor ripples but something in between. According to researchers, the sand dune like topography which bears no similarity to anything on our planet will be useful in learning more about the evolution of the Martian atmosphere.

Dunes and ripples are not exclusive to Earth and Mars. Saturn's moon Titan, Venus as well as comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko have also been noticed to have a type of wavy design that marks their surfaces. However, the Martian dunes which have been noticed near the Gale Crater are different from Earth dunes, as per a NASA report. The new type of dune found on the red planet has wave formations that measure on the scale of several meters compared to the small ripples found on Earth's sand dunes, and look like they have been formed by water currents. According to researchers, the Gale Crater is a desert so it is baffling how water could be present here and result in such huge ripples. In addition, smaller ripples dating back to three billion years were also found preserved in sandstone.

To throw light on the mystery, a team of researchers studied the results of previous experiments that investigated the formation of ripples on our planet. Based on their observation, the researching team analyzed how the wind drag ripples might have been created in the thin atmosphere of the red planet. The findings suggested that Mars once had a thicker atmosphere.

"The size of these ripples is related to the density of the fluid moving the grains, and that fluid is the atmosphere of Mars," said Mathieu Lapotre, Curiosity mission scientist. "We think the red planet had a thicker atmosphere in the past that might have formed smaller wind-drag ripples or even have prevented their formation altogether. Thus, the size of preserved wind-drag ripples, where found in Martian sandstones, may have recorded the thinning of the atmosphere".

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