Moving ripples on Mars


Using Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) high resolution images, scientists have now determined that the giant ripples seen from space are actually moving, albeit very slowly.

Megaripples are found in deserts on Earth, often between dunes. Waves in the sand spaced up to tens of meters apart, they’re a larger version of ripples that undulate every 10 centimeters or so on many sand dunes. But unlike dunes, megaripples are made up of two sizes of sand grains. Coarser, heavier grains cap the crests of megaripples, making it harder for wind to move these features around, says Simone Silvestro, a planetary scientist at Italy’s National Institute of Astrophysics in Naples.

Since the early 2000s, Mars rovers and orbiters have repeatedly spotted megaripples on the Red Planet. But they didn’t seem to change in any measurable way, which led some scientists to think they were relics from Mars’s past, when its thicker atmosphere permitted stronger winds.

Now, using images captured by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Silvestro and his colleagues have shown that some megaripples do creep along—just very slowly.

They found that the ripples shift position about four inches per year, which astonished them since they had not believed the winds of Mars were strong enough to move them at all.

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