Squiggles on Mars

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Squiggles on Mars

Cool image time! The image on the right, reduced and cropped to post here, shows a sand dune slope with numerous squiggly troughs that end either in a small pit or slowly fade away. At first glance one things the troughs were caused by a boulder rolling downhill, but there are no boulders at the base of the slope, and a rolling boulder wouldn’t create so many similar squiggles like this.

The explanation is that the boulders are made of carbon dioxide ice.

Just like on Earth, high-latitude regions on Mars are covered with frost in the winter. However, the winter frost on Mars is made of carbon dioxide ice (dry ice) instead of water ice. We believe linear gullies are the result of this dry ice breaking apart into blocks, which then slide or roll down warmer sandy slopes, sublimating and carving as they go.

The linear gullies exhibit exceptional sinuosity (the squiggle pattern) and we believe this to be the result of repeated movement of dry ice blocks in the same path, possibly in combination with different hardness or flow resistance of the sand within the dune slopes.

For a really entertaining explanation of this process, take a look at the embedded video below the fold.


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