Pasadena, California – NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has begun an up-close investigation of dark Martian sand dunes, the 1st one it has ever experienced outside of Earth.

Curiosity has been patrolling Mars’s surface for three year now and at the moment it is ascending a mountain in the center of the immense Gale Crater. There, Curiosity has bumped into dark sand dunes. These sand dunes are located at the lower portion of the Bagnold Dune that runs across the northwest part of Mount Sharp, which is located in the Gale Crater.

Curiosity was able to take pictures that display a close-up of the dunes’ sand grains. Images like these help scientists measure the mineral formation of sand on Mars, and how the dunes, mainly the active ones such as the Bagnold Dunes, evolved over the years. The investigation showed that some dunes rise as high as two stories, and that the move about three feet each year.

This Sept. 25, 2015, view from the Mast Camera on NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover shows a dark sand dune in the middle distance. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

The images captured by the rover provide “the first detailed look at the Martian dunes for further study”, and the plan is for Curiosity to obtain samples of materials found in the dunes for further analysis using its built-in laboratory instruments.

“We’ve planned investigations that will not only tell us about modern dune activity on Mars but will also help us interpret the composition of sandstone layers made from dunes that turned into rock long ago,” Bethany Ehlmann of the California Institute of Technology and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory said.

The goal of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory Project is for the Martian rover to search for ancient environments for clues about the Red Planet’s evolutionary past and to also determine potential habitable sites on Mars.

Now scientists have to hurry up as some small holes and tears are appearing in the aluminum skin around the rover’s wheels. This has caused the team to abandon some of its planned stops in order to focus on the main goal.

Back in August, Curiosity had already offered images of the dunes from a distance before its arrival at the High Dune area. At that time, petrified sand dunes were spotted in the images. But now Curiosity is there and its presence has given researchers an up close view, as the images are better and more recognizable.

Source: Engadget