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Gorgeous Black Sand Dunes Captured On Mars

First Posted: May 11, 2017 04:20 AM EDT

Although known primarily as the "Red Planet," Mars came with a few surprises. The Mars Curiosity rover recently snapped stunning vistas showing black sand dunes. These dunes captured the attention of scientists for the past 18 months, and the newly released photos showed the field that lay on the northwestern part of Mars' 3.4-mile-high Mount Sharp.

Space.com noted that the Curiosity rover had been studying four different sites near the dune from early February to April this year. At this point, the car-size rover is driving uphill and away from the area, although it is said that it carried with it some sand sample. The rover will examine the sites with what it found in late 2015 and early 2016 during its crescent-shaped dune investigation. The two-phase campaign is the first study of dunes up close outside Earth.

According to NASA, among the questions set to be answered by the Martian dune campaign will address how winds shape dunes that are already close together or on the same side of the same mountain and form them into different patterns. The study will also include whether or not Martian winds can sort grains of sand in ways that can affect its distribution of mineral compositions.

The Curiosity rover landed near Mount Sharp in August 2012. This is after finding evidence that Martian lakes offered conditions favorable for microbes. This means that ancient Mars would have been able to support microbial life. The rover successfully reached the base of the mountain in 2014. It later found that rock layers forming at the base of the mountain accumulated as sediment from ancient lakes billions of years ago.

Curiosity is now working its way up on Mount Sharp. It will not only study the rock layers as it climbs but it will also attempt to determine how and when the ancient habitable conditions evolved to become dry and less favorable for life today.

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