Curiosity Rover‏: Nothing like the feel of sand beneath your wheels.

mars sand dust

(This pair of images shows effects of one Martian day of wind blowing sand underneath NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover on a non-driving day for the rover. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

Fast Facts:

› Wind is a dominant force shaping landscapes on Mars, despite the thin air.
› A recent study supports the idea that a mountain that is oddly in the middle of a Martian crater was formed by wind subtracting other material after the crater had been filled to the brim with sediments.
› Modern winds in the crater show effects such as dusty whirlwinds, shifting sand and active dunes.
› NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity has begun investigating linear-shaped dunes during the crater’s windy summer season.

On Mars, wind rules. Wind has been shaping the Red Planet’s landscapes for billions of years and continues to do so today. Studies using both a NASA orbiter and a rover reveal its effects on scales grand to tiny on the strangely structured landscapes within Gale Crater.

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover, on the lower slope of Mount Sharp — a layered mountain inside the crater — has begun a second campaign of investigating active sand dunes on the mountain’s northwestern flank. The rover also has been observing whirlwinds carrying dust and checking how far the wind moves grains of sand in a single day’s time.

Gale Crater observations by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter have confirmed long-term patterns and rates of wind erosion that help explain the oddity of having a layered mountain in the middle of an impact crater.

“The orbiter perspective gives us the bigger picture — on all sides of Mount Sharp and the regional context for Gale Crater. We combine that with the local detail and ground-truth we get from the rover,” said Mackenzie Day of the University of Texas, Austin, lead author of a research report in the journal Icarus about wind’s dominant role at Gale.