Processes not observed on Earth play major roles in the movement of sand on Mars

phys.org | 11/16/2011 | Staff
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Wind has shaped the face of Mars for millennia, but its exact role in piling up sand dunes, carving out rocky escarpments or filling impact craters has eluded scientists until now.

In the most detailed analysis of how sands move around on Mars, a team of planetary scientists led by Matthew Chojnacki at the University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Lab set out to uncover the conditions that govern sand movement on Mars and how they differ from those on Earth.

Results - Issue - Journal - Geology - Reveal

The results, published in the current issue of the journal Geology, reveal that processes not involved in controlling sand movement on Earth play major roles on Mars, especially large-scale features on the landscape and differences in landform surface temperature.

"Because there are large sand dunes found in distinct regions of Mars, those are good places to look for changes," said Chojnacki, associate staff scientist at the UA and lead author of the paper, "Boundary conditions controls on the high-sand-flux regions of Mars." "If you don't have sand moving around, that means the surface is just sitting there, getting bombarded by ultraviolet and gamma radiation that would destroy complex molecules and any ancient Martian biosignatures."

Earth - Atmosphere - Martian - Atmosphere - Pressure

Compared to Earth's atmosphere, the Martian atmosphere is so thin its average pressure on the surface is a mere 0.6 percent of our planet's air pressure at sea level. Consequently, sediments on the Martian surface move more slowly than their Earthly counterparts.

The Martian dunes observed in this study ranged from 6 to 400 feet tall and were found to creep along at a fairly uniform average speed of two feet per Earth year. For comparison, some of the faster terrestrial sand dunes on Earth, such as those in North Africa, migrate at 100 feet per year.

Mars - Wind - Energy - Amount

"On Mars, there simply is not enough wind energy to move a substantial amount...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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