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Published On: Mon, Sep 16th, 2019

Ridged red planet: Sand dunes of Mars revealed in stunning new detailed PHOTO

ESA and Roscosmos scientists studying the frozen wastes of the north polar region of Mars have captured a truly stunning sight, rolling, cracking dunes made by sublimating CO2 gas, creating a truly out of this world landscape.

Using highly specialized camera equipment, scientists can study the wind patterns on the Red Planet and, more specifically, the prevailing wind direction, by monitoring the shape of the dunes and how they evolve over time. 

During the Martian winter, a thin layer of CO2 ice covers the surface. Later, with the onset of spring, this CO2 sublimates (transforms from a solid to a gas) into vapor from the bottom of the ice up.

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This traps CO2 gas underneath the surface layer of ice and above the sand below, which causes the landscape to crack and shift, creating the unusual dune formations seen in the satellite imagery. 

The landscape is riddled with so-called ‘barchan’ dunes, the crescent or U-shaped dunes seen throughout the Martian terrain, the curved tips of which point downwind. 

© ESA/Roscosmos/CaSSIS

The formation of ridges from the dunes indicates that secondary winds play a role in shaping the landscape, information which will inform any and all future colonization efforts, as we’ll need to know which way the wind blows if we’re going to build structures that last. The low gravity environment on Mars allows for much greater wind speeds of up to 30 meters per second in some instances during dust storms.

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Ridged red planet: Sand dunes of Mars revealed in stunning new detailed PHOTO