Click for full image.
The science team for the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) today released a very cool pair of images, taken a Martian year apart, showing some significant changes that had occurred during that time in a large sand dune slope inside a crater. On the right is that pair, reduced and with the top image slightly lightened to bring out the features. As they wrote in the caption,
One large gully in particular has had major changes in every Martian winter since [MRO’s high resolution camera] began monitoring, triggered by the seasonal dry ice frost that accumulates each year.
This time there was an especially large change, depositing a huge mass of sand. The sand divided into many small toes near its end, or perhaps many individual flows descended near the same spot. Additionally, a long sinuous ridge of sand was deposited. This could be a “levee” that formed along one side of a flow, but there is not much sand past the end of the ridge, so it might also be the main body of a flow.
Nor is this dune gully the only active one in this crater, dubbed Matara Crater, located in the southern cratered highlands at about 50 degrees south latitude. If you look at the full image and compare it with an image from 2009 there are many changes across the entire slope field that extends a considerable distance to the north and south of the cropped section shown above.
At this latitude atmospheric carbon dioxide settles as frost during the winter, then sublimates away with the coming of spring. The freeze-sublimation process disturbs the sand each year, causing these avalanches.
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