Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Technology measures Martian sand movement: Dune migration rates appear to be similar to those on Earth

Date:
May 9, 2012
Source:
California Institute of Technology
Summary:
Last year, images from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter captured sand dunes and ripples moving across the surface of Mars -- observations that challenged previously held beliefs that there was not a lot of movement on the Red Planet's surface. Now, new technology has allowed scientists to measure these activities for the very first time.

This is a perspective view of the Nili Patera dune field. A HiRISE image has been draped over a digital elevation model of Mars. Colors correspond to the amplitude of the ripple's displacement extracted by image correlation between two HiRISE observations separated by 105 days. Cool colors (blue) correspond to less than 75 cm of displacement whereas warm colors (red) correspond to 4.5+ meters.
Credit: California Institute of Technology

Last year, images from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter captured sand dunes and ripples moving across the surface of Mars -- observations that challenged previously held beliefs that there was not a lot of movement on the red planet's surface. Now, technology developed by a team at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) has allowed scientists to measure these activities for the very first time.

The new method for data processing is outlined in an advance online publication of the journal Nature.

"For many years, researchers have debated whether or not the sand dunes we see on Mars are fossil features related to past climate, since it was believed that the current atmosphere is too thin to produce winds that could move sand," says Jean-Philippe Avouac, the Earle C. Anthony professor of geology at Caltech, who initiated the study. "Our new data shows that wind activity is indeed a major agent of evolution of the landscape on Mars. This is important because it tells us something about the current state of Mars and how the planet is working today, geologically."

Using the COSI-corr software (for Co-registration of Optically Sensed Images and Correlation), which was invented at Caltech, a team of researchers gathered high-resolution imagery from Mars to look at a specific field of sand dunes called Nili Patera. The images came from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

The team focused on precise, subpixel measurements of movement between pairs of images. On the dunes at Nili Patera, the software automatically measured changes in the position of sand ripples from one image to another over a 105-day period, resulting in the surprising findings that the ripples are moving fast -- some upwards of 4.5 meters during that time -- which contributes to the total motion of the sand dunes.

"This is the first time that we have full, quantitative measurement of an entire dune field on a planetary surface, as opposed to the localized manual measurements that were done before," explains Francois Ayoub, a coauthor of the paper and a scientist engineer in Avouac's lab. "Using this technique, you could monitor other dune fields, or you could also follow a particular area over a longer time frame to see the seasonal or annual evolution of the sand dunes. This is a huge step in terms of the data that you can obtain from the surface of Mars."

The team also found that the dunes at Nili Patera appear to move similarly to those found on Earth in Victoria Valley, Antarctica. This implies that the rates of landscape modification due to wind are similar on the two planets. Interestingly enough, getting these measurements was much easier on Mars -- the researchers could not quantify dune ripple migration rates on Earth using the same technique because that would require satellite imagery of our planet at a resolution that makes it classified information.

"These new measurements provide keys to interpreting the landscape and the stratigraphic record that you see exhumed when you look at the imagery -- we see sediments and wonder what they mean in terms of the past geologic history," says Avouac. "The fact that you can describe the current activity of surface systems will help us understand Mars's past geological record, which is a reason that this is important."

Next, the team will focus on learning more about how the sand is actually moving on the surface of Mars.

"We would like to use this new data to tie our observations to the physics of sand transport, which are not well understood," says Sebastien Leprince, a coauthor of the study and a senior research scientist on Avouac's team. "By learning more about how the sand moves around, we may also learn more about the atmosphere on Mars."

The group also plans to use the HiRISE images paired with COSI-Corr to explore other regions of Mars and monitor for surface motion. For example, there are parts of the planet that may have glaciers covered with dust, and other places where fault lines can be seen and could be tracked for displacement.

"We are going to visit other areas on Mars to get a better view of what kind of activity there is on the planet today -- geologically speaking, of course," says Avouac, who points out that while they are not looking for life on Mars, their technique is detailed enough that it would detect very small changes on the surface.

The Nature study, "Earth-like Sand Fluxes on Mars," was funded by grants from the Keck Institute for Space Studies at Caltech, NASA's Mars Data Analysis Program, and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Director's Research and Development Fund. Additional authors on the study are Antoine Lucas, a postdoctoral scholar in planetary science at Caltech, Nathan T. Bridges from Johns Hopkins University, and Sarah Mattson from the University of Arizona. An exclusive license to Caltech's COSI-Corr technology was recently awarded to Imagin'Labs Corporation (www.imaginlabs.com).


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by California Institute of Technology. The original article was written by Katie Neith. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. N. N. Bridges, F. Ayoub, J-P. Avouac, S. Leprince, A. Lucas, S. Mattson. Earth-like sand fluxes on Mars. Nature, 2012; DOI: 10.1038/nature11022

Cite This Page:

California Institute of Technology. "Technology measures Martian sand movement: Dune migration rates appear to be similar to those on Earth." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 9 May 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/05/120509135929.htm>.
California Institute of Technology. (2012, May 9). Technology measures Martian sand movement: Dune migration rates appear to be similar to those on Earth. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 25, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/05/120509135929.htm
California Institute of Technology. "Technology measures Martian sand movement: Dune migration rates appear to be similar to those on Earth." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/05/120509135929.htm (accessed July 25, 2014).

Share This




More Space & Time News

Friday, July 25, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Raw: ISS Cargo Ship Launches in Kazakhstan

Raw: ISS Cargo Ship Launches in Kazakhstan

AP (July 23, 2014) The Progress 56 cargo ship launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan Wednesday. NASA says it will deliver cargo and crew supplies to the International Space Station. (July 23) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Cargo Craft Undocks from Space Station

Raw: Cargo Craft Undocks from Space Station

AP (July 22, 2014) A Russian Soyuz cargo-carrying spacecraft undocked from the International Space Station on Monday. The craft is due to undergo about ten days of engineering tests before it burns up in the Earth's atmosphere. (July 22) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
NASA Ceremony Honors Moon Walker Neil Armstrong

NASA Ceremony Honors Moon Walker Neil Armstrong

AP (July 21, 2014) NASA honored one of its most famous astronauts Monday by renaming a historic building at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It now bears the name of Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon. (July 21) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Neil Armstrong's Post-Apollo 11 Life

Neil Armstrong's Post-Apollo 11 Life

Newsy (July 19, 2014) Neil Armstrong gained international fame after becoming the first man to walk on the moon in 1969. But what was his life like after the historic trip? Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

More Coverage


NASA Spacecraft Detects Changes in Martian Sand Dunes

May 9, 2012 NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has revealed that movement in sand dune fields on the Red Planet occurs on a surprisingly large scale, about the same as in dune fields on Earth. This is ... read more
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

    Health News

      Environment News

        Technology News



          Save/Print:
          Share:

          Free Subscriptions


          Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

          Get Social & Mobile


          Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

          Have Feedback?


          Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
          Mobile: iPhone Android Web
          Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
          Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
          Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins