Published: Sat, May 06, 2017
Science | By Hubert Green

Stunning Mars 360 video captures mountains, craters & 'beaches' on Red Planet

Stunning Mars 360 video captures mountains, craters & 'beaches' on Red Planet

NASA's Curiosity Mars Rover carries a fistful of dark sand from a linear dune from the Red Planet in order to analyze it.

Since an issue with the motor is now preventing the rover's drill from spinning, it has instead been keeping busy conducting the first close-up examination of the active Martian dunes. The idea was to compare this data with previous information collected by the rover in late 2015 and 2016 - whose investigations had then focused on crescent-shaped dunes.

NASA's Curiosity rover took the dark sand to complete its investigation of the dunes and has somewhat analyzed it. NASA's car-sized robotic rover took a sample of sand from a rippled dune and the rover is carrying it as it climbs uphill to its next destination on Mars Mount Sharp.

Using the Curiosity rover, scientists hope to answer a number of questions regarding the mysterious dunes. Dunes are generally classified by their shapes: there are linear dunes that tend to be pretty straight and are longer than they are wide, crescent-shaped dunes, star dunes that have arms like the spokes on a wheel, dome dunes, and parabolic dunes.

"At these linear dunes, the wind regime is more complicated than at the crescent dunes we studied earlier", Mathieu Lapotre of Caltech, leading the Curiosity team, said in a release. "There seems to be more contribution from the wind coming down the mountain's slope here compared with the crescent dunes farther north". This could be because the linear dunes are about a mile uphill; closer to the action, so to speak. A part of it has been examined in the rover's Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument which is present inside it. The science team plans to deliver additional sample portions to SAM and to the rover's Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) instrument.

"A balky brake appears to be affecting drill feed mechanism performance", said Curiosity Deputy Project Manager Steven Lee, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. Geological Survey. But in addition to those and linear-shaped dunes, there are other types, including star-shaped dunes.

As it scales Mount Sharp, the rover is looking for clues about what happened as Mars dried up. The mountain's base "accumulated as sediment within ancient lakes billions of years ago".

Curiosity landed near Mount Sharp in August 2012.

Curiosity's dune mission comes after it inspected the plains around the base of the mountain and learned that "ancient Martian lakes offered conditions that would have been favorable for microbes if Mars has ever hosted life", NASA said.

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