Mars Global Surveyor
Mars Orbiter Camera

Dark Dunes Over-riding Bright Dunes

MGS MOC Release No. MOC2-201, 31 January 2000


Some martian sand dunes may be more active than others. In this picture, wind has caused the dark and somewhat crescent-shaped dunes to advance toward the lower left. While their movement cannot actually be seen in this April 1998 snapshot, the location of their steepest slopes--their slip faces--on their southwestern sides indicates the direction of movement. Oddly, these dark dunes have moved across and partly cover sets of smaller, bright ridges that also formed by wind action.

This Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC) image illustrates an intriguing martian "find". Strangely, the two dune types have different shapes and a different relative brightness. There are two explanations for the relationship seen here, and neither can be distinguished as "the answer"---(1) it is possible that the brighter dunes are old and cemented, and represent some ancient wind activity, whereas the dark dunes are modern and are marching across the older, "fossilized" dune forms, or (2) the bright dunes are composed of grains that are much larger or more dense than those that compose the dark dunes. In the latter scenario, the bright dunes move more slowly and are over-taken by the dark dunes because their grains are harder to transport. An interpretation involving larger or denser grains is consistent with the small size and even-spacing of the bright dunes, as well, but usually on Earth such features occur on the surfaces of larger, finer-grained dunes, not under them. The actual composition of either the bright or dark materials are unknown. This example is located on the floor of an impact crater in western Arabia Terra at 10.7°N, 351.0°W. The picture is illuminated from the right.

Image credit: NASA/JPL/Malin Space Science Systems

Malin Space Science Systems and the California Institute of Technology built the MOC using spare hardware from the Mars Observer mission. MSSS operates the camera from its facilities in San Diego, CA. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Mars Surveyor Operations Project operates the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft with its industrial partner, Lockheed Martin Astronautics, from facilities in Pasadena, CA and Denver, CO.

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