The Mars rover Curiosity captured some impressive images on its journey towards Mount Sharp. From February to April, the rover passed near Bagnold Dunes and analyzed four sites situated along one linear dune. This sand formation is situated within the Gale Crater, in the northwestern area of Mount Sharp.
Mars hosts dunes of different shapes
This is not the first time when Curiosity is exploring and analyzing Martian dunes. During a campaign in 2015, the rover visited barchans, which are shaped like a crescent moon. Besides capturing images, Curiosity also collected samples which it later analyzed and compared their composition with the composition of the surface.
Curiosity is on a ‘dune campaign’, and it is currently completing the second phase of this mission. This campaign will end when the rover will collect samples from them, too. Also, it will mark the first exploration mission of active dunes in the Solar System.
The fact that there are dunes of different shapes on Mars baffled the researchers, so they wanted to find out how they are formed. Therefore, they decided to study how the wind impacts them, and found out that it behaves differently in the case of linear dunes. In fact, their position might be to blame.
How does the wind affect the shape of the dunes?
The linear dunes are situated uphill from the crescent ones, and lie a mile south from them. Since the wind comes down from the mountain slope, it is more powerful and has a more drastic effect on the sand.
Moreover, researchers observed more distinctions between the two dune campaigns. When they looked at the crescent dunes, the wind was in a low season. Now, when they reached the linear ones, the wind is in a high season. Therefore, they could get a better view of how the grains move and how different sand formations come into being.
Curiosity keeps roaming the Martian surface since 2012, and it reached the base of Mount Sharp in 2014. The rover has already started its journey towards the top of the mountain, and is looking for environments to contrast with the dry surface.
Image Source: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory