A new study carried out by NASA reached the following conclusion. The Red Planet’s giant Mount Sharp may have been shaped by powerful Martian winds. These latter were noted to carry sand and sediments.
The atmosphere on Mars is very different than the one here on Earth. Nonetheless, although it is some 100 times thinner, it is capable of supporting weather. It can also lead to the appearance of clouds and swirling winds. And these Martian winds seem to be quite powerful.
NASA observations led to the following theory. Wind is considered a dominant force on Mars. One that actually helped shape its landscape. In an official press release posted on the agency’s web page, NASA officials went to explain their statement.
According to the release, NASA has been studying the Martian winds and landscape. It has been using observations gathered by two of its devices. One is the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The other is the Curiosity rover, situated on the planet.
Careful observations of the Martian winds revealed that they have slowly but constantly been carrying materials. They have been transporting both dust and sediments. These were taken out of the Gale Crater. The scientists believe that this process has been taking place for some billions of years.
Through this process, the Martian winds may have also helped shaped the landscape. More exactly, they may have shaped the appearance of Mount Sharp. This massive structure stands 3.4-miles high.
The Gale Crater is a 96 miles wide formation. It was probably created as a comet or asteroid hit Mars over 3.6 billion years ago. Ancient rivers may have filled it with various sediment layers. Ones that would have included sand, silt, and rocks. But as the planet’s climate became drier, the Martian winds eroded the sediment layers. Later on, it also started blowing them around, according to NASA.
The agency also considers that even if infrequent, this wind-borne sand may have had quite an effect. Especially as the phenomenon has been taking place for some billions of years. Over such a period, it could have ‘whittled away’ at the Martian landscape.
From late 2015 to early 2016, Curiosity investigated a series of crescent-shaped dunes. It then went to study ribbon-shaped linear dunes. The rover registered that, in these latter, sand is transported along a pathway. Shaped as a ribbon, it can also oscillate back and forth.
As it investigates Mount Sharp’s lower slopes, Curiosity will continue investigating such dunes. It will be studying their movement and composition. It will be doing so as it continues moving up on Mount Sharp.
The Curiosity team will be keeping the rover in the area for at least a while longer. Its observations will continue as Mars is entering its summer season. On the Red Planet, this is also the windiest period. As such, the rover will have higher chances of studying the sand-carrying Martian winds.
Recently, the rover captured images of dust devils or whirlwinds moving across the carter. It also recorded small sand ripples.
By studying the Martian winds, the scientists are hoping to better understand its effects. Especially the ones that sort grains according to their composition. This could help researchers interpret the ancient sandstones. And also the planet’s modern dunes.
Image Source: Wikimedia