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Striking Blue Dune Found By NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter

Jun 25, 2018 12:45 AM EDT
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Martian Blue Dune
Dunes aren't too surprising to spot in Mars, but bright blue ones are quite special.
(Photo : NASA | JPL-Caltech | Univ. of Arizona)

The Red Planet is getting a little bit blue — literally — as a field of stunning blue dunes has been spotted on Mars' surface last January.

It's not unusual to find crescent-shaped dunes called barchan dunes on Mars — or even Earth, for that matter. When wind blows a certain way, sand accumulates and gets shaped in these dunes.

The color, though, is eye-catching and NASA is sharing the amazing image that they dubbed "Once in a blue dune."

Blue Barchan Dunes On Mars

Dunes often form near craters, like in the Red Planet's Lyot Crater where NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter caught the field of barchan dunes.

South of this collection is a massive and more complex dune that appears a pretty turquoise when the color is enhanced. NASA explains that this particular dune has been observed to be made of finer particles. It also reportedly has a different composition than the surrounding field of dunes.

Wired notes that the dunes are not exactly blue, considering the saturation is adjusted, but it's still incredible to see.

Currently, Mars is completely enveloped in a dust storm that knocked the nearly 15-year-old Opportunity rover offline. While analysis by experts expect the rover to survive the storm that has blotted out the sun in the Red Planet, Opportunity hasn't been responding to attempts to communicate with it and there's still no sign of the skies clearing in Earth's neighbor.

Not The First Time

It might be strange and slightly surreal to see, but this is not the first time scientists have observed electric blue dunes pop up in Mars. In 2016, the MRO also discovered ancient layered bedrocks with light blue hues in the planet's Nili Fossae region.

Experts suggested that water likely used to flow in this part of Mars.

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter

NASA's MRO left Earth in 2005, reaching Mars in 2006. Its primary mission is to study the history of water in the Red Planet and analyze whether it existed there long enough to host life in Mars.

Not only is the MRO larger than many other orbiters sent to the planet since then, but it's also equipped with many different tools that are designed to study the various aspects of Mars: the surface, under the surface, and the atmosphere. All of these equipment have proved valuable over the years, enabling astronomers to get a more intimate glimpse of Mars — blue dunes and all.

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