Across the far northern regions of Mars, a sea of dunes dots the red landscape, continuing on for thousands of miles. At first glance they appear like fossils of geography—reminders of a time when Mars was vivacious and windswept that now find themselves encrusted and stationary.
Looks can be deceiving. A research team confirms in Science this week that Mars’ dunes are not static. Atmospheric processes forged by the turning of Mars‘ seasons cut into the dunes and send sand flying about. Scientists just couldn’t see it before.
“I was hoping for tiny little changes to be detectable,” planetary scientist Candice Hansen-Koharcheck with the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Ariz., [said]. “This was more like knock-your-socks-off kind of stuff. It’s a very active part of the Mars landscape in today’s climate.” [Discovery News]
Hansen-Koharcheck turned the HiRISE camera of the NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on the dunes, and recorded for two Martian years (four Earth years or so). Earlier HiRISE pictures suggested that the dunes were not unchanging. These new images show not only that the dunes of Mars are a dynamic place, but, according to the team, that the forces pushing their evolution are not seen on our planet.