The NASA Curiosity Mars Rover will soon get its first close understanding of the history of the Martian dunes.
Curiosity headed for the dark dunes of Bagnold, which lie in the northwestern foothills of Mount Sharp, and should begin exploring the sand formations in the coming days.
“Curiosity will be studied by one sand dune, which has the width of a football field and the height of a two-story building,” said NASA officials. "And they are active. Orbiter observations show that some dunes move as much as 3 feet (1 meter) per year."
"We are planning to start a study that will help us tell not only about the modern activity of the dunes on Mars, but also help us interpret the composition of the sandstone layers that have already turned into rocks," said Elman Bethany of the California Institute of Technology and NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. both of which are in Pasadena.
When Curiosity reaches the dunes of Bagnold, which were named after the British military engineer and researcher Ralph Bagnold (1896-1990), the rover will begin collecting samples for subsequent analysis and comparison of the surface and subsurface layers. “These dunes have a different texture to the terrestrial dunes,” said Nathan Bridges of the Laboratory of Applied Physics at Hopkins Johns University in Laurel, Maryland.
“The waves on them are much larger than the waves of the dunes on Earth, and we don’t know why,” added Bridges, who is planning the study of the dunes on Mars along with Elman. "We have models that are based on lower air pressure. Because of this, a higher wind speed is required to make the particles move. But now we will have a unique opportunity to explore the dunes of Mars in more detail."
The monotonous rover Curiosity landed inside the huge Martian crater Gail in August 2012 to determine if the Red Planet was once able to sustain life. The rover almost immediately responded convincingly, discovering that Gail had once been filled with liquid water.