Mars is humanity’s apparent next destination. Current and planned missions of NASA, and other agencies like the European Union’s space agency, the ESA, have been about the Earth’s red neighbor. The goal of which is to explore and understand the environment that the Red Planet has to offer, thus letting engineers and scientists back home create better plan for the first manned Mars space mission.
Of late scientists operate two rovers on Mars. One of which is the obviously popular rover, Curiosity, which landed on the rust-colored surface of Mars four years ago. But did you know that in addition to the rovers, NASA, specifically, is still operating three orbiters at Mars? One of which is the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, launched back in 2005.
This spacecraft, which is already more than 10 years in mission, has the HiRISE camera, and it is the source of this week’s latest Mars “mystery” story.
Published at the UA HiRISE website, the article entitled “Mars Morse Code” reveals that Mars has dark dunes which are “very complex” and difficult to parse.
The team at the UA HiRISE explains that the shape and orientation of such terrain can tell them about the wind direction. But in the image provided at the site, the dune-forms at one of the areas of the Red Planet–specifically at the Hagal Dune field–shows “unusual topography.” That is to say, scientists are having a hard time knowing the wind direction which affects the said terrain.
They suggest that a circular depression–which is probably an old and infilled impact crater–has limited the amount of sand available for dune formation and influenced local winds, thus letting the dunes form distinct dots and dashes.
The dashes, they say, are linear dunes formed by bi-directional winds that do not travel parallel to the dune. Instead, the combined effect of the winds coming from two directions at right angles to the dunes funnels material into a linear shape. Meanwhile, the smaller dots, which they call the “barchanoid dunes,” appear when there’s some interruption to the process which formed the linear dunes. The team adds that the process is not well understood at this time, and it is one of their motivations to image the area using the HiRISE camera.
More about Mars this week
A recent study is suggesting that the liquid water on Mars “dark streaks,” the one confirmed by NASA last year, is not drinkable.
It was confirmed by a study published at the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets with the title “Geologic context of recurring slope lineae in Melas and Coprates Chasmata, Mars.” The main goal of the research was to look for the source of water on Mars.
The research team headed by planetary geologist Matt Chojnacki of the University of Arizona in Tucson has found that the dark streaks are too close to the planet equator, so it’s quite obvious that the water isn’t coming from the melting ice under the surface. Instead, the groundwater may be coming from a “long way underground,” which is bad news for future space missions because it would likely be “extremely salty,” and possibly too salty to desalinate for human use.
The team behind this research also has used the data of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s HiRISE camera.
You can read more about this research at the American Geophysical Union.