Science & Technology

Weird sand ripples on Mars tell tales about Red Planet’s past and present climate

The sands of Mars transfer in mysterious methods – together with a method that’s not seen on Earth’s floor, however solely on the sandy backside of our bodies of water. And the scientists behind NASA’s Curiosity rover mission say these bizarre medium-sized ripples can reveal how Mars’ environment has modified, or not, over the course of billions of years.

The alien ripples are the main target of a analysis paper revealed at this time by the journal Science.

“Earth and Mars each have large sand dunes and small sand ripples, however on Mars, there’s one thing in between that we don’t have on Earth,” Caltech researcher Mathieu Lapotre mentioned in a NASA news release. Lapotre, who works with the Curiosity mission’s science workforce, is the lead creator of the Science report.

The report relies on a close-up examination of the Bagnold Dunes, a stretch of Martian sand that Curiosity handed by means of because it made its method towards the foothills of 3-mile-high Mount Sharp (a.okay.a. Aeolis Mons).

The large dunes, which generally span greater than 100 yards, seemed acquainted. Earth’s winds can blow sand into equally large piles which are formed by avalances on their downward slides. Curiosity additionally noticed small ripples, organized in rows that have been sometimes lower than a foot aside. On Earth, such affect ripples are created when windblown sand collides with different sand grains alongside the bottom.

However the midsize ripples, measuring about 10 toes throughout, posed a puzzle. The dynamics of Earth’s winds don’t create ripples that dimension. The closest analog turned out to be the sand ripples that type underwater.

That was the important thing to fixing the puzzle.

“The dimensions of those ripples is said to the density of the fluid shifting the grains, and that fluid is the Martian environment,” Lapotre mentioned.

Lapotre and his colleagues say the midsize ripples are distinctive to the Martian floor as a result of Red Planet’s skinny environment. And that’s not all.

“We predict Mars had a thicker environment within the past that may have fashioned smaller wind-drag ripples and even have prevented their formation altogether,” Lapotre mentioned. “Thus, the scale of preserved wind-drag ripples, the place present in Martian sandstones, might have recorded the thinning of the environment.”.

Researchers checked the patterns of wind-drag ripples preserved in sandstone formations that they estimated have been greater than 3 billion years previous. They discovered that these historical ripples have been at finest solely barely smaller, suggesting that the environment was about as skinny again then as it’s at this time. That discovering is per the prevailing view that Mars misplaced most of its environment comparatively early in its 4.5 billion-year historical past.

“Discovering proof of those ripples within the rocks tells us that Mars has had a skinny environment for a very long time,” research co-author Ryan Ewing of Texas A&M mentioned in a news release.

Curiosity is continuous its Mount Sharp trek, nearly two years after its landing on Mars. Because the rover makes its method up the mountain, it’s tracing billions of years of geological historical past preserved within the layers of rock – and retaining a watch out for extra clues about Mars’ historical climate change.

Lapotre and Ewing are amongst 22 authors of the Science paper, titled “Large Wind Ripples on Mars: A Record of Atmospheric Evolution.” Western Washington College’s Melissa Rice can be a co-author.

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