Stunning Blue Dune Discovered in 'Field of Dunes' on Mars

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has discovered a stunning blue dune, illustrating that Mars is more than just a red planet.

There are sand dunes across the surface of Mars, especially in crater floors. In the bottom of Lyot Crater, there is a “ field of dunes.” According to a NASA press release, one dune is made of finer material and/or has a different composition from the surrounding, greyish dunes.

BlueDune In a field of dunes, one shows stunning azure in enhanced color. NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

NASA launched the MRO into space in 2005 to study the history of water on Mars. It takes pictures regularly and sends stunningly colorful images of the surface of Mars to earth. The machine uses a powerful telecommunications system, or “ interplanetary internet ” as NASA calls it to send the high-resolution images to NASA. NASA is required to make the images public and posts them on Flickr.

The images show a diverse, but apparently lifeless landscape. With enhanced color, viewers can see reds, yellows, blues and purples, as well as a variety of different geological shapes on the surface of the planet. Weather, clouds, winds, asteroid impacts, dust devils, storms, and even the momentum of the planet change the landscape to create interesting shapes. The climate of Mars averages around minus 80 degrees Fahrenheit with an atmosphere around 100 thinner than earth’s.

Craters Parts of Mars are covered with crater blemishes. NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Sand dunes on Mars are “classic barchan,” or crescent-shaped, dunes. Barchan sand dunes aren’t as common on earth, but are formed in a similar way. When wind blows in only one direction, it creates a pile of sand. The sand falls down one side of the pile, making a sharp top to the dune. By definition, the face of the dune is steep, but the trailing wall on the other side is not.

Currently, there is a dust storm on Mars, blocking out sunlight with red dust. It’s unclear whether the Mars rover “Opportunity,” which is solar-powered has survived the storm, as earth has lost contact.

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