NASA’s Mars Orbiter takes a stunning picture of icy sand dunes in the northern planes

NASA’s Mars Orbiter takes a stunning photo of icy sand dunes in the northern planes of the Red Planet

  • The photo was taken by the Orbiter from 196 miles above the surface of Mars
  • It was taken using the HiRISE camera which also captured images of Perseverance
  • The images appear to show an icy series of sand dunes within a 3 mile crater
  • NASA says this may point to evidence of gullying from melting ice

NASA has released a new image, taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, showing stunning icy sand dunes within a 3-mile crater on the planet’s northern planes.

The photo, taken in February, reveals some detail about the formation of trenches on the Red Planet, taken as the ice melts with the changing seasons.

Some of the dunes in the field appear to be separated from the main group, NASA said, appearing to climb up the crater slope along a trench-like shape.

NASA’s Mars Orbiter has been imaging Mars since 2006, returning gigabytes of photos, and revealing new details about the ancient world.

NASA released a new image, taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, of stunning icy sand dunes within a 3-mile crater on the planet’s northern planes

This latest image was taken with the High Resolution Imaging Experiment (HiRISE) camera of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, 196 miles above the surface of Mars.

It shows a ‘field of sand dunes’ in an ice-covered crater in the high latitudes of the northern planes of the Red Planet, revealing gullies likely formed by melting ice.

The surface of the main dune area is covered with a series of dark-hued polygonal patterns. These could be the result of a seasonal frost process, NASA said.

Several of the steeper dune slopes, pointing downwind, contain narrow grooves that suggest the beginning of gullying. Possibly from the melting ice.

One of the main purposes of the orbiting spacecraft is to find evidence that water once flowed over the surface of the Red Planet, for how long, and whether it did so in sufficient quantity and long enough to develop life.

Discovering evidence of melting ice and the formation of trenches adds to the scientific understanding of the planet.

The crater floor contains a variety of textures, including those covered with lobes, in addition to striped patterns that indicate seasonal thaws caused by sublimating ice.

This is a map projection made by Orbiter showing the location of the field of sand dunes within the 3 mile wide crater on Mars

This is a map projection made by Orbiter showing the location of the field of sand dunes within the 3 mile wide crater on Mars

Wide downward movements of materials on the crater slopes opposite the dune field superficially resemble gullies, NASA said.

Except they are generally not defined by distinctive niches, cut channels, or sediment aprons seen in gullies elsewhere on the planet.

This has left open questions about exactly how they formed, what they are, and why they appear to be different from trenches elsewhere on Mars.

Future orbiters, as well as work by the likes of the Curiosity and newcomer Perseverance rover, will help answer some of these questions.

NASA's Mars Orbiter has been imaging Mars since 2006, returning gigabytes of photos, and revealing new details about the ancient world

NASA’s Mars Orbiter has been imaging Mars since 2006, returning gigabytes of photos, and revealing new details about the ancient world

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has six different instruments on board that can study every level of the Red Planet, including subterranean layers.

NASA hopes to make it work until at least 2030, as it has been used to return data from both rovers, plus it could run even longer.

It was used to record Perseverance’s landing phase as it surfaced, and to reveal the rover as a ‘little dot’ on the expansive orange surface.

WHAT IS THE MARS RECONNAISSANCE ORBITER?

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) is looking for evidence that water has persisted on the surface of Mars for a long time.

It was launched on August 12, 2005 and reached a first orbit around the red planet on March 10, 2006.

In November 2006, after five months, it entered its last scientific job and began its primary scientific phase.

Since its arrival, MRO and its High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) telescope have been mapping the surface of Mars, which has been taking shape for more than three billion years.

MRO’s instruments analyze minerals, search for underground water, track how dust and water spread in the atmosphere and monitor daily weather in support of scientific objectives.

MRO’s missions have shown that water flowed over the surface of Mars, but it is not yet known if the water held up long enough to provide habitat.

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