New Views of The Dark Martian Dunes

Not long ago, the Curiosity rover started taking pictures of a fascinating region near mount Sharp that was soon named the Bagnold Dunes.  Dark, sandy, and full of interesting features, the dunes are along the road that Curiosity has to travel before reaching the base of mount Sharp and beginning it’s ascent.  Study of the dunes has revealed major differences from dunes on Earth, and they have Astronomers and Geologists alike asking some interesting questions.

The dark sands of Bagnold Dunes. Credit: NASA-JPL

The more I see photos of Mars, the more I realize that it’s a lot like Earth.  It has such diverse features and interesting landscapes, even though it may not look like it from up on high.  Seeing the dunes in this photo for the first time I would never guess it was from Mars.  How does wind shape these dunes in an environment with such a thin atmosphere? How do they differ from dunes on Earth? Why is the sand so much darker here than elsewhere on Mars?

Martian Sand from the Bagnold Dunes. Credit: NASA-JPL

The sand grains are interesting.  showing them in a close-up view, it’s apparent that smaller grains of sand have blown away, leaving larger grains packed together, and gaps where the smaller grains once sat.  The above image is only 1.4 inches wide, showing what standard sand grains look like along the dunes.

What is next for Curiosity as it approaches Mount Sharp? What scientific treasures still lie in wait? Will Mars become a weirder place before we start to truly understand it? Or are we already well on our way?


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