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Martian spiders

A Piece of Mars: Martian spiders, or araneiforms, are geological structures found at high latitudes on Mars. The dark splotch with branching arms in this 0.48×0.27 km (0.3×0.17 mi) scene is a good example. They form in the springtime, when bright frost still covers a darker sandy soil, but some sunlight filters through the frost to warm the underlying surface. Sublimation of gas (under the frost but just above the soil) creates enough pressure that little explosions occur like dry geysers, punching through the frost and blowing up sand that then falls back to the surface as a dark splotch. If the wind is blowing when this happens, then the dark splotch is carried a ways downwind, but that hasn’t happened in this case. (HiRISE ESP_048189_0985, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)


A Piece of Mars: The dunes climbing over a rocky surface in this 0.96×0.54 km (0.6×0.34 mi) scene are mostly yellow because they’re covered (and therefore kept immobile) by dust. The crest of one dune, though, shows recent activity: dark sand has been pushed by the wind up the lower right side, and then shot (cannonball-style) over the brink, where it slowly piles up on the upper left side. This pileup is called grainfall, because that’s what the sand grains have done here (rather than sliding downhill, avalanche-style, which is called grainflow). There’s a dune on the left side of the image that hasn’t experienced this activity, maybe because it’s a little more sheltered from the wind. (HiRISE ESP_047779_1655, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

Bedforms on crater rims

A Piece of Mars: Dunes and ripples most commonly form in topographic lows. But not in this 0.96×0.54 km (0.6×0.34 mi) scene. Here, and in other places on Mars, these bedforms (called TARs) form on plains, and sometimes appear to cling to the rims of craters – which are topographic highs, not lows. It’s not clear how this happens: Does the topography of the crater rim provide a wind shadow that allows windblown sediment to accumulate there? Or was there simply more loose material on the crater rims to begin with, allowing these things to form in place? I’m open to suggestions. (HiRISE ESP_047787_1910 NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

Shadows behind boulders

A Piece of Mars: Bright material (either dust or sand) has accumulated in the lee of wagon- to car-sized boulders in this 0.96×0.54 km (0.6×0.34 mi) scene. It’s perhaps something like the Rocknest sand shadow that Curiosity visited a few years back. The wind blows from lower right to upper left, carrying along sediment that occasionally gets trapped in the protected areas behind the boulders. These sand shadows aren’t very thick, as the underlying texture (polygonal terrain!) is visible through them. (HiRISE ESP_047798_1150, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

Let’s end this political hangover. It is time to fight


It was a tough night … one in which any dreams we may have had of “American exceptionalism” were crushed.

Instead of serving, as it has so nobly, for more than two centuries as a beacon of hope and light to people everywhere, this nation will instead see our first African-American president hand the keys to the White House to a low-grade reality TV star who is endorsed by David Duke and the KKK, “alt-right” crazies, and American Nazis. To the horror of many of us, our next president will be someone who explicitly rejects science, reason, and the values we all hold dear—values that are our only hope for moving this country and the world forward. (more…)

Dunes and rock hurdles in Gale crater (3D)

A Piece of Mars: Wind from the upper left is blowing dark dunes toward the lower right in this 1.92×1.08 km (1.19×0.67 mi) anaglyph (if you don’t have your red/blue 3D glasses handy, you can also check out the black and white 2D version). The dunes are crossing through hurdles aligned to make their progress as difficult as possible, but the dunes nevertheless are slowly making their way through. Ironically, the bright “hurdles” are themselves lithified dunes that are perhaps billions of years old. (HiRISE ESP_020555_1755/ESP_047139_1755 NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

On Mars the wind carves stream channels

A Piece of Mars: This 1.6×2 km (1×1.24 mi) scene mostly shows what wind will do to fine-grained, weakly-consolidated surfaces. It has created topography that further strengthens wind scour in the hollows, which even leave kilometers-long grooves reminiscent of water-carved streams. If this were Earth I’d guess they had been carved by water first. But this is Mars, where the wind is in charge. (HiRISE ESP_046504_1785, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

The spire in Eberswalde crater

A Piece of Mars: OK, you have to bring out the red/blue glasses for this one. (Or click here if you’re missing your glasses and want the black and white version.) Eberswalde crater has some lovely layered deposits, long ago laid down by running water, and since eroded steadily by the wind. The wind leaves behind the most resistant parts (mainly fluvial channels that were more cemented). The center of this image shows a tall spire: the tallest of the flat layers (top of the “wedding cake”) is 290 m (950 ft) across and casts a shadow indicating it’s 200 m (656 ft) above the next layer down. That central spike is another 70 m (230 ft) taller yet, by itself nearly rivaling the “Totem Pole” in Monument Valley. Check out the rest of the red/blue anaglyph, it’s stunning. (HiRISE, ESP_047185_1560/ESP_047119_1560, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

Windblown: ancient and recent

A Piece of Mars: HiRISE is celebrating 10 years of success by showcasing its first high resolution image, taken back in 2006. Here is a portion of it, shown at 1/4 the full resolution (the scene is 2.5×2.5 km across). I highly recommend downloading the HiRISE image viewer and looking at the whole thing, it’s an amazing landscape. The portion shown here has many different ripple-like features, formed by a wind blowing from left to right. Notice that those in the middle and middle-left are a bit fainter: these are ripple-like features that were carved into the bedrock by the wind, and they may be much older than the sharper-edged ones nearby. (HiRISE TRA_000823_1720, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

Is it windblown or not?

A Piece of Mars: This 480×270 m (0.30×0.17 mi) scene shows what are being called “ridges”. Were these ridges once dunes that have now been stabilized and eroded? They have some dune-like characteristics: nearly parallel crests, one slope is steeper than the other, that steep slope seems to have exposed layers, and sometimes the crests meet in what is called a “Y-junction” (based on the letter’s shape). But although they’re common in some areas on Mars, they’re not like any dunes or ripples I’m familiar with. I’m inclined to think they’re not ancient dunes, but it’s likely that the wind had a hand in their formation. I’m open to suggestions… (HiRISE, ESP_046998_1365 NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)