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NASA's Mars Curiosity Rover Discovers Dark Sand Dunes on Mars

May 08, 2017 05:20 AM EDT

While Cassini is on its Grand Finale mission diving between Saturn and its rings, NASA's Mars Curiosity rover continues to discover surprising elements on the surface of the red planet. Recently, the NASA rover identified dark sand dunes on the surface of Mars.

Curiosity captured Bagnold Dunes using its Mast Camera (MastCam) on board. The area is located in Ogunquit Beach in the northwestern part of lower Mount Sharp. The 360-degree image shows dark sand dune ripples created by sediments deposited on bedrocks formed billions of years ago.

NASA's Mars Curiosity rover is also dragging with it samples of the dark sand for analysis. The analysis will complete its observation into Mount Sharp's sand dunes. Curiosity uses data collected from different parts of Mount Sharp to compare the findings. The data from 2015 and 2016 were compared in a two-phase campaign of the first active dunes analysis outside Earth.

By studying the dunes, including the dark sand dunes, scientists may be able to explain how Martian winds help shape the dunes on the surface. The findings will help scientists in their studies on Martian sandstones.

"At these linear dunes, the wind regime is more complicated than at the crescent dunes we studied earlier," Mathieu Lapotre of Caltech, in Pasadena, California, who helped lead the Curiosity science team's planning for the dune campaign said in a press release. "There seems to be more contribution from the wind coming down the slope of the mountain here compared with the crescent dunes farther north."

The Bagnold Dunes, where the dark sand dunes were found, stretches for about a mile (1.6 kilometers). Scientists say that during the second phase of the dune campaign, they already saw signs of movement to grains and ripples at the linear dunes.

To help scientists study the movement of the dark sand dunes, they use the wind-sensing capacity of NASA's Mars Curiosity Rover and its Curiosity Rover Environmental Monitoring System. The active dunes also further prove that there is changing weather on Mars as evident by reports of NASA rovers.

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