NASA Curiosity Rover Samples Active Sand Dunes On Mars Surface

Posted: May 7 2017, 9:57am CDT | by , Updated: May 7 2017, 10:06am CDT, in News | Latest Science News

 
NASA Curiosity Rover Samples Active Sand Dunes on Mars Surface
A 360-degree view of Bagnold Dunes on Mars. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity rover is the first to study active sand dunes in any place of solar system other than the Earth

On its way to higher layers of Mount Sharp, NASA’s Curiosity Rove is sending back spectacular views of the dark sandy dunes on Martian surface.

From early February to early April, the rover sampled and studied four sites near a linear dune. The studied locations are a part of Bagnold Dunes, a band along the northwestern flank of Mount Sharp inside Gale Crater, stretching several miles in length. These new dunes are different from those investigated during the first phase of the dune campaign back in late 2015.

Curiosity has previously visited crescent-shaped dunes called barchans, as opposed to the recent, linear dunes. At the dunes, rover used its scoop to collect samples for the rover's internal laboratory instrument and made a comparison of the surface to the interior. This is the phase 2 of the rover’s dunes campaign and the onboard analysis will mark the completion of the phase. Curiosity Rover is the first to get up close with extraterrestrial dunes. No active dunes have been visited anywhere in the solar system besides Earth.

Researchers wanted to know how winds shape sand dunes on Mars and why they are drastically different from each other. The linear dunes lie uphill and about a mile south from the crescent dunes.

“At these linear dunes, the wind regime is more complicated than at the crescent dunes we studied earlier. There seems to be more contribution from the wind coming down the slope of the mountain here compared with the crescent dunes farther north," said Mathieu Lapotre of Caltech who helped plan the Curiosity science team’s dune campaign.

“There was another key difference between the first and second phases of our dune campaign, beside the shape of the dunes. We were at the crescent dunes during the low-wind season of Martian year and at the linear dunes the high-wind season. We got to see a lot more movement of grains and ripples at the linear dunes.”

To check for movement of sand grains, the rover uses change-detection pairs of image taken at different times. A sample of sand taken from the linear dune is also examined by the rover’s mobile laboratory. Researchers are aiming to analyze additional samples to understand more about the compositional properties of the dune.

Meanwhile, NASA has released a stunning panorama view of a portion of Bagnold Dunes from the rover's Mast Camera. The location is called "Ogunquit Beach." Dark, rippled surface of a linear dune is visible in the center of the view while the rest is sedimentary deposits created by ancient lakes billions of years ago.

Curiosity Rover just keeps rolling along the Martian surface since its touchdown in 2012. The rover reached the base of the Mount Sharp in 2014 and is now driving toward uphill destinations. The aim is to investigate the evidence of ancient, water rich environments that contrast with the dry, harsh conditions on Mars surface today.

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