Curiosity Rover is heading toward active dunes on Red Planet
NASA’s Curiosity Rover is on its way to get the first close look at the dark sand dunes on Mars. The dunes’ known as Bagnold Dunes’ are scattered around the northwestern side of Mount Sharp and they are active, shifting their place about 1 meter (3 feet) per year.
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This is the first time when an extraterrestrial active dune will be visited by a rover. Though, small ripples of sands have been explored before.
“These dunes have a different texture from dunes on Earth,” said Nathan Bridges, the lead planner for active dunes campaign. “The ripples on them are much larger than the ripples on top of dunes on Earth and we don’t know why. We have models based on the lower air pressure. It takes a higher wind speed to get a particle moving. But now we’ll have the first opportunity to make detailed observations.”
NASA explains that sand dunes on Mars are quite massive. One of the dunes, which rover will probe into, is as tall as a two-story building and as large as a standard size football field.
Curiosity Rover is already there on the planet to monitor wind direction and speed each day and is taking closer images of the area. Less than 200 yards are remained to reach the first dune. Upon reaching there, rover will use its spoon-like hand to scoop out the material and will roughen the surface to find out the difference between its outermost layer and its interior.
“We’ve planned investigations that will not only tell us about modern dune activity on Mars but will also help us interpret the composition of sandstone layers made from dunes that turned into rock long ago.” Bethany Ehlmann of the California Institute of Technology and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a statement.
Bagnold Dunes on Mars are named after Ralph Alger Bagnold who thoroughly researched on wind’s ability to transport the sand and shape the surface of the Earth. The ripples of sand on Mars may be blown away by the wind and that’s the thing researchers want to confirm.
"We will use Curiosity to learn whether the wind is actually sorting the minerals in the dunes by how the wind transports particles of different grain size," Ehlmann said.
Curiosity’s campaign at Mars dunes is the first to learn dune activity on a planet with lower gravity and less atmosphere. This will help scientists to find how the windblown dunes were formed and what kind of role size and weight of various mineral grains play in it.
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Source: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory