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Published:May 12th, 2012 15:38 EST

NASA's MRO Orbiter Reveals Mars Undergoing Earth-Like Changes

By Ron G Anselm

One of the great wonders about our planet if you ever visited the Middle East or anywhere where that sand is is as abundant as the blue sky from horizon to horizon. The sand dunes are an incredible sight. If you really focus as you look at the sea of sand that covers the landscape you can see it almost looks like an art form with swirling images and small hills that make you want to grab a dune buggy and take the ride of your life. To me, the sand dunes are really the eighth wonder of the world.

Sand dunes almost have a personality of their own because the shape of them changes frequently as the wind blows across the desert landscape. Now, NASA`s MRO, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has revealed the sand dunes on our neighboring Red Planet have much of the same qualities has the sand dunes on Earth when it comes to the movement of changes in shape.

Scientists are surprised about this because the atmosphere on Mars has a much thinner density, about one-percent as dense as our atmosphere on Earth which causes the high-speed winds on Mars to occur less frequently than the warm winds that blow across our desert landscape. The winds on Mars are weaker than the winds that shape the sand dunes on Earth, so it sort of creates a scenario that scientist want to study more to find out the "why "in it.

One of the tasks of NASA was to find out if the sand dunes on Mars were mostly made up of primitive fossil debris from the past climate but since they have been and continue to study the Martian planet they have discovered that the ingredients of the sand that make up the sand dunes on Mars are mostly made up of current debris from the current climate.

Using their High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment camera for the past two years and studying the sand dunes on Mars in great detail, scientists have discovered that the sand dunes on Mars do change shape and move frequently as they do on Earth.

We have all heard many times in the past how NASA and scientists are or what seems like are constantly looking for another planet(s) out there somewhere in our Solar System that may have or even remotely be as close to the climate and environment as Earth to be able to one day possible relocate our civilization to that planet wherever it may be. With the constant study of sand dunes on Mars scientists are continuing to discover that Mars may be the next planet. Over the years there have been tons of different studies by NASA on looking at planets out there with the same qualities as Earth and Mars seems to be in the running for the only planet that satisfies what we would need to survive if we lived on Mars.

The sand dunes on Mars are not just moving but are moving as fast as Willie Randolph stealing second base for the New York Yankees in the 1970s era of baseball. Even the thicker sand dunes on Mars that have a depth of 200 feet or more are moving across the Martian landscape. This also proves that the landscape on Mars is close to our landscape on Earth.

Doug McCuistion who is the Director of NASA`s Mars Exploration Program in Washington commented by saying, "This exciting discovery will inform scientists trying to better understand the changing surface conditions of Mars on a more global scale, This improved understanding of surface dynamics will provide vital information in planning future robotic and human Mars exploration missions." (McCuistion, NASA, 2012)

The study found that the tool that measures the changes in the position of the sand dunes found that the ripples in the dunes move faster the higher up they are on the dune. With this discovery it now allows researchers to estimate the volume or flux of the moving sand.

The study examined images taken in 2007 and 2010 of the Nili Patera sand dune field located near the Martian equator. By correlating ripples` movement to their position on the dune, the analysis determined the entire dunes are moving.(NASA, 2012)

Nathan Bridges who is a Planetary Scientist at John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland said, "We chose Nili Patera because we knew there was sand motion going on there, and we could quantify it. " The Nili dunes also are similar to dunes in places like Antarctica and to other locations on Mars." (Bridges, 2012)

The main purpose of the study is to find out important information about the pace of which blowing sand could be actively eroding rocks on Mars. Using the new information about the volume of sand that is moving, scientists estimate rocks in Nili Patera would be worn away at about the same pace as rocks near sand dunes in Antarctica, where similar sand fluxes occur. (NASA, 2012)

"Our new data shows wind activity is indeed a major agent of evolution of the landscape on Mars," said Jean-Philippe Avouac, Caltech team leader. "This is important because it tells us something about the current state of Mars and how the planet is working today, geologically."(Avouac, 2012)

One interesting point about the study of the Nil Patera sand dune on Mars is if you stood in the dune itself and measured out a one yard width you would discover that two cubic yards of sand pass by in the timeframe of one year on Earth which equates to a volume of about as much sand that is normally in a children`s sand box.

"No one had estimates of this flux before," said Bridges. "We had seen with HiRISE that there was dune motion, but it was an open question how much sand could be moving. Now, we can answer that." (Bridges, NASA, 2012) With this information scientists can also understand in broader terms, the mysteries of why so much of the surface on Mars appears more heavily eroded and how that may have occurred. It also gives scientists the needed information for an accurate study if the process of erosion was done in the past or is it current and an ongoing process.

NASA continues to seek out new worlds and broader civilizations and to go where no man has gone before. Mars appears to be the main focal point of the study of not only future space exploration by not just astronauts but people who may one day be able to go on their yearly vacation to the big Red Planet.

Reference

NASA Mars Spacecraft Detects Large Changes in Martian Sand Dune, (www.nasa.gov) Retrieved 2012.