The Curiosity Rover Is Studying The Big Black Sand Dunes Of Mars

big black sand dunes

Curiosity is now trying to figure out what makes up those big black sand dunes seen on Mars.

Since its launch in 2011, NASA’s Curiosity rover has been exploring the surface of Mars long past its originally planned mission end. It sent back reams of data from many different spots on the Red Planet, and it will likely continue doing so. Now, it is trying to figure out what makes up those big black sand dunes seen from space. These are often called linear dunes, and they are the first of their kind to be studied on another planet.

Two Part Mission, Big Black Sand Dunes Stage

The current field of dunes being studied by Curiosity is on the northwestern shoulders of Mount Sharp. This is the significant geographical feature around which the rover carried out most of its work.

One of the main things scientists are trying to find out about these big black sand dunes is why they form in linear patterns, as opposed to the more common crescent-shaped formations. Curiosity just left a patch of such crescent dunes, which it studied throughout most of 2015 and parts of 2016.

Since the car-sized lander has been serving well beyond its intended lifespan, several of its instruments are no longer completely functional, including its wind sensors. Therefore, Curiosity cannot measure wind speeds as easily and as accurately as it could during the first few years of the mission.

So now, the team uses change-detection between pairs of images taken at different times to measure how fast the sand moves. And that wind seems to be the culprit in the mystery of the dunes’ shape.

“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 Institute.

According to the research theme, these linear dunes have a “more complicated” wind regime. At least when compared to the studied Martian crescent dunes.

Image Source: NASA

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