Bizarre sand dunes on Mars that are ‘almost perfectly circular’ baffle scientists

Images were taken to monitor how frost disappears in the late winter on Mars

Vishwam Sankaran
Wednesday 15 March 2023 09:32 GMT
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Related video: NASA spots ‘unusual’ circles on Mars

Images of “almost perfectly circular” sand dunes on Mars that have been released by Nasa are puzzling scientists.

While sand dunes of many sizes and shapes are common on Mars, circular dunes are rare, Nasa said in a statement.

The images, taken from Mars’s northern hemisphere, revealed circular dunes with asymmetrical shapes and their steep sides slanted southward, researchers from the University of Arizona said in a statement.

The discovery can reveal more about the patterns acquired by wind movement across the Red Planet.

Mars experiences cycles of four seasons – summer, spring, fall and winter – similar to Earth and the images were taken to monitor how frost disappears in the late winter on the Red Planet.

While in one set of Nasa’s pictures, the round sand dunes appear ice free, they are covered in frost in an another.

The southward slant of the dunes suggests the winds at the time on the Red Planet may have been blowing the sand in that direction, scientists said.

But they are unsure what may have caused the dunes to appear almost perfectly circular.

“Sand dunes of many shapes and sizes are common on Mars. In this example, the dunes are almost perfectly circular, which is unusual,” said the statement from the University of Arizona.

The new images were captured by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera system onboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) spacecraft orbiting Mars.

MRO was launched by Nasa in 2005 to study Mars with the main goal of understanding the geology, climate and search for signs of water and potentially habitable environments on the planet.

The spacecraft orbiting Mars is equipped with a range of scientific instruments, including the HiRISE camera as well as radar, spectrometers and other sensors.

The HiRISE is the largest and most powerful camera ever sent to another planet and is designed to capture incredibly detailed images of the Martian surface.

Using the high resolution camera, scientists continue to study the Red Planet’s geology, mineralogy and topography in much greater detail.

The orbiter also continues to act as a communications bridge for other Mars missions to Earth.

It also recently discovered a strange geological structure on Mars resembling a bear’s face.

Its camera spotted two craters that appear to make up the eyes of the ”bear” and a V-shaped collapsed hill for its snout.

“This feature looks a bit like a bear’s face,” the University of Arizona noted in a statement.

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