Mars harbors a mysterious kind of dune-like structure that’s unlike anything seen on Earth, a new study reports.
These unusual sandy ripples might yield insights about how Mars has evolved over time from a potentially habitable world to the harsh, dry planet we know today, researchers added.
On Earth, wind blowing over sand causes the formation of either small ripples a few inches to a foot long to large dunes that can stretch for miles. Collectively, these structures are known as bedforms.
Now, by analyzing high-resolution images taken by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mars rover Curiosity, scientists have discovered a kind of bedform intermediate in size between the tiny ripples and big dunes seen on Earth’s landmasses.
These bedforms “look similar to ripples that are formed by currents underwater on Earth,” said study lead author Mathieu Lapotre, a planetary geologist at the California Institute of Technology.
However, Mars is now too cold and dry for liquid water to persist long on its surface. As such, “the ripples were not created by a liquid, but by winds of the Martian atmosphere,” Lapotre told Space.com.
To explore the potential origins of these strange features, Lapotre and his colleagues developed a model based on decades of experiments involving flowing water and sand on Earth. They found the model could predict the spacing between the crests of the newfound Martian bedforms.
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SOURCE: Fox News; Space.com, Charles Q. Choi