Fri. Apr 16th, 2021
Sand Dunes on Mars Shift From Season to Season - Universe Today

Mars’ gravity makes it a tremendous place to seek out a few of the biggest landscapes within the photo voltaic system.  These would come with the photo voltaic system’s biggest sand dune – one which resides in Russell crater.  Now, a group of scientists led by Dr. Cynthia Dinwiddie observed one thing distinctive concerning the sides of this large dune.  Sometimes gullies type alongside its floor. Dr. Dinwiddie’s novel rationalization for this phenomena – boulders of CO2 rolling down the dune’s floor.

This isn’t the primary time the gullies have been noticed: “For over twenty years, planetary scientists have had many concepts about how and when very lengthy, slim gullies fashioned on frost-affected sand dunes on Mars” Dr. Dinwiddie says.  Explanations for these gullies largely contain some type of CO2 ice or water ice.

MRO Picture displaying downhill gullies that fashioned on Mars.
Credit score: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Univ. of Arizona

There have been two key options of the dune that led to a potential rationalization of the gullies.  The primary was that modifications to the gullies had been actively happening to the dune since commentary , which ran opposite to the unique idea that that they had been in place from time immemorial.  The second was that there have been vivid blocks of CO2 ice that had been seen in a few of the gullies.

The novel datapoint that Dr. Dinwiddie’s intensive knowledge search confirmed the gullies type seasonally.  Particularly, they seem in the course of the equal of the Martian southern hemisphere’s early spring.  Dr. Dinwiddie first observed this by figuring out brightness modifications within the gullies themselves.  Darker gulley sand was uncovered, making a change simply noticeable even from far-off distant sensing platforms just like the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Image showing changes to gullies on a different sand dune.
Picture capturing the modifications in gullies that led to a greater understanding of how they had been fashioned.
Credit score: NASA / JPL-Caltech / College of Arizona

There are two main explanations for this alteration in floor albedo, each of which must do with the Martian seasons. In fall and winter, temperatures plunge to a degree the place CO2 will freeze, creating ice deposits on the aspect of the dune.  Within the spring, these ice deposits will warmth up, inflicting instabilities of their inside construction that may leads to outgassing.  

Sometimes that outgassing is solely launched as a puff of CO2. Extra not often although, it might probably truly cut up aside the ice block, inflicting smaller fragments to fly into the air, and ultimately come to relaxation touchdown on a distinct a part of the dune.  They could even roll a bit as they land, creating the gullies that at the moment are a a lot darker purple because the darker sub-surface sand is uncovered with out being lined in mud.

Image from the study showing dust plumes caused by moving ice fragments
Picture from the brand new examine displaying mud plumes triggered because the CO2 migrated down the dune.
Credit score: NASA / JPL / Malin House Methods (CTX) & NASA / JPL / College of Arizona

The idea neatly explains the lively formation, seasonality, and presence of CO2 ice within the gullies themselves. Sadly, all that onerous work of making darker patches is ultimately worn out, because the annual Martian mud storms blanket the world in a extra uniform mud coating.

NASA video discussing dry ice & sand dunes.
Credit score: NASA YouTube Channel

Regardless of the impermanence of the discoloration, the gullies are nonetheless there, if barely extra uniform.  This novel idea about how they bought there additionally helps to point out simply how lively the Martian floor actually is – even when it doesn’t straight contain operating water.

Study Extra:
SwRI – SwRI scientist captures evidence of dynamic seasonal activity on a Martian sand dune
Spaceref.com – Evidence of Dynamic Seasonal Activity on a Martian Sand Dune
Harvard – Seasonality of present-day Martian dune-gully activity
UT – New Gully Appears On Mars, But It’s Likely Not Due To Water

Lead Picture
Plumes observable coming off a dune with freshly fashioned gullies.
Credit score: NASA / JPL / College of Arizona

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