Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Sand ripples taller on Mars

04.11.2003


Mars is kind of like Texas: things are just bigger there. In addition to the biggest canyon and biggest volcano in the solar system, Mars has now been found to have sand ripples twice as tall as they would be on Earth.

Initial measurements of some of the Red Planet’s dunes and ripples using stereo-images from the Mars Orbiter Camera onboard the Mars Global Surveyor have revealed ripple features reaching almost 20 feet high and dunes towering at 300 feet.

One way to imagine the taller dimension of ripples on Mars is to visualize sand ripples on Earth, then stretch out the vertical dimension to double height, without changing the horizontal dimension.



"They do seem higher in relation to ripples on Earth," said Kevin Williams of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Williams will be presenting this latest insight into the otherworldly scale of Marscapes on Monday, Nov. 3 at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America in Seattle, WA.

Ripples are common on Mars and usually found in low-lying areas and inside craters, says Williams. On Earth they tend to form in long parallel lines from sand grains being pushed by water or air at right angles to the ripple lines. Dunes, on the other hand, are formed when grains of sand actually get airborne and "saltate" (a word based on the Latin verb "to jump"). That leads to cusp-shaped, star-shaped, and other dune arrangements that allow materials to pile sand much higher.

How exactly Martian dunes and ripples form is still unknown, says Williams, since the images from space give us no clues to the grain sizes or whether they are migrating or moving in any way. Though there are Viking spacecraft images from almost 30 years ago to compare with, the images do not have the resolution to confirm whether ripples have moved much in that time. For now, the dimensions of ripple-forms on Mars are the only indications of whether they are large ripples or small dunes. Williams’ results came about from the advantageous combination of image parameters to get the first height measurements of these ripple-like features at the limit of image resolution.

According to Williams, it’s likely the doubled heights of Mars ripples relative to their spacing is made possible by the same thing that makes Mars’ volcanoes so tall: lower gravity. With about one-third the gravity of Earth, sand, silt, and dust can theoretically stack up higher before gravity causes a slope failure.

However, other differences could play roles in making these large piles of sand as well. "It could also be from different wind speeds, air densities or other factors," said Williams. Mars has a perennially subfreezing, very thin atmosphere in which global dust storms have been known to obscure the surface from view.

The study of Mars dunes and ripples has been underway since Viking spacecraft images of Mars first revealed such features in the late 1970s and early 1980s, says Williams. The primary difficulty of the work continues to be in discerning the close-up details, like the exact heights of features and grain sizes. As with dunes and ripples on Earth, these wind-blown features could reveal a lot about local and regional weather and wind currents – if more was known about ripple and dune building under the very un-Earthlike conditions of Mars.

So far the only close-encounters humans have ever had with Martian dunes were with the Viking Landers and the Pathfinder mission, which sent the Sojourner rover trundling among Martian boulders. "There were some small dunes in the area of Pathfinder," Williams said.

There are also likely to be ripples or small dunes within range of the far more mobile Mars Exploration Rovers now enroute to the Red Planet, Williams said. The Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, are larger and will be able to travel much further than Sojourner, making it more likely they will be taking a closer look at ripples as well as other geological features of Mars.

Ann Cairns | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.geosociety.org/
http://gsa.confex.com/gsa/2003AM/finalprogram/abstract_63965.htm

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Early organic carbon got deep burial in mantle
25.04.2017 | Rice University

nachricht New atlas provides highest-resolution imagery of the Polar Regions seafloor
25.04.2017 | British Antarctic Survey

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

7th International Conference on Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaics in Freiburg on April 3-5, 2017

03.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

NASA's Fermi catches gamma-ray flashes from tropical storms

25.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Researchers invent process to make sustainable rubber, plastics

25.04.2017 | Materials Sciences

Transfecting cells gently – the LZH presents a GNOME prototype at the Labvolution 2017

25.04.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>