Mars in Motion! Scientists create stunning gifs of the Red Planet’s sand dunes to understand what conditions impact them

  • Scientists used data from  NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to create gifs of sand dunes on Mars
  • The team is hoping to understand what conditions impact them and how dunes in different areas move
  •  They found the highest sand fluxes are observed in the northern polar region, helped along by winds
  • Regions near impact basins, such as Hellas and Isidis Planitia, showed upslope winds are a driving factor 

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Mars is covered in sand dunes that dance in the wind, but the only views Earth has seen of these moving formations are stills – until now.

Using the High-Resolution Camera aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), scientists have brought these formations to life in order to understand what conditions impact them.

Researchers studying the dunes found the highest sand fluxes are observed in the northern polar region, helped along by winds produced by the retreating dry ice polar caps, IFLScience reported.

Regions near impact basins, such as Hellas and Isidis Planitia, showed upslope winds are a driving factor, while the southern areas are less mobile due to seasonal frost and ice trapping the sand.

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‘We quantified bed-form sand fluxes across Mars, finding that the largest fluxes are driven by boundary conditions distinct from those on Earth,’ the researchers wrote in the paper.

‘The locations of Syrtis Major, Hellespontus Montes, and the north polar erg are all near prominent topographic boundaries (e.g., impact basins, the polar cap), which also have strong thermal gradients that likely contribute to seasonal winds and, in turn, high sand mobility.’

After investigating the dunes, the researchers found those with the most movement are located in the northern polar areas, which is driven by summer katabatic winds – winds that carry high-density air from a higher elevation down a slope.

However, southern dunes were found to have less mobility, as a result of seasonal frost and ground ice suppressing sand availability.

Using the High-Resolution Camera aboard NASA¿s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), scientists have brought these formations to life in order to understand what conditions impact them. Researchers studying the dunes found that the highest sand fluxes are observed in the northern polar region, helped along by winds produced by the retreating dry ice polar caps

Using the High-Resolution Camera aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), scientists have brought these formations to life in order to understand what conditions impact them. Researchers studying the dunes found that the highest sand fluxes are observed in the northern polar region, helped along by winds produced by the retreating dry ice polar caps

The most active dune region on Mars occurs within Olympia Mons, a very large shield volcano, and Abalos Undae, a dune filed located in the North Pole region. Sand dunes along Nili and Meroe Paterae are translating toward the west-southwest (pictured)

The most active dune region on Mars occurs within Olympia Mons, a very large shield volcano, and Abalos Undae, a dune filed located in the North Pole region. Sand dunes along Nili and Meroe Paterae are translating toward the west-southwest (pictured)

‘Results suggest that, unlike on Earth, large-scale topographic and thermophysical variabilities play a leading role in driving sand fluxes on Mars,’ reads the published study.

The most active dune region on Mars occurs within Olympia Mons, a very large shield volcano, and Abalos Undae, a dune filed located in the North Pole region.

This area does experience seasonal ice, but experts found it contributes to at least 20 percent of the sand movement.

In contrast, the southern dunes’ movement is hindered by ice.

‘Seasonal volatiles (CO2/H2O frost) and ground ice at higher latitudes play a critical role in inhibiting or contributing to sand availability or mobility,’ the scientists wrote in the study.

‘The largest sand fluxes occur along the north polar cap where seasonally retreating CO2 and a large thermal contrast drive geomorphically effective winds.

‘Although some high-flux wind regimes are unidirectional, other sites show that bidirectional winds drive convergent dune migration patterns. 

‘Moreover, our finding of enhanced sand fluxes in the vicinity of large-scale topographic and thermophysical variability is consistent with previous work demonstrating that these factors play a more critical role for wind flow on Mars than on Earth.’

 



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