What Lies Beneath Mars’ Sand Dunes
Mars sand dune featured

The High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) just can’t stay out of the news. This time around, NASA highlights an image of sand dunes snapped by HiRISE.

Mars sand dune

These sand dune images tell scientists a lot about what’s happening on the Martian surface. This includes information on everything from erosion to wind and weather patterns. What makes the new image special is you can see what lies beneath the sand dunes – a surface material riddled with fractures.

The fractured ground is resistant to the very processes that shape the sand dunes above it. NASA scientists have two theories on what makes up the surface in this area. Being resistant to erosion suggests the surface is bedrock shaped by wild swings in temperatures, or bending stresses. Or, it could be a sedimentary layer that may have been wet in the distant past. As it dried, it shrank and fractured. Think of mud cracks, but on a much larger scale.

Here’s another image showing multiple sand dunes and the surface material underneath them.

another martian sand dune

And here’s the coolest sand dune picture of them all. HiRISE describes their shapes as resembling “raptor claws.”

Mars raptor claw sand dune

Here’s a closeup of several of the sand dunes in color.

Mars raptor claw dune color closeup

Why the “raptor claw” shape? According to the HiRISE team, the unusual shape could hint at a limited supply of windblown sand.

One of HiRISE’s goals is to help scientists better understand the Aeolian (shaped by wind) processes on the red planet’s surface. Got some time to spare? Head on over to this page to see 2,000 images of these Aeolian processes in action.

Image credits: NASA/MRO/HiRISE

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