Curiosity, NASA’s Mars rover, took a closer look at the Bagnold Dunes from February to April of this year. The rover traveled uphill on the linear dune fields. These are located on the northwestern flank of Mount Sharp which lies at the Gale Crater’s center.
NASA’s rover scooped up a sample of the dune’s black sand for analysis. Curiosity’s science team will use its findings to learn more about how Martian winds affect its dune fields.
Mars Rover Curiosity Discovers Black Sand in Bagnold Dunes Analysis
Curiosity internally analyzed the black sand sample with the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument. The rover’s science team is planning to take a closer look at more sand samples with the SAM instrument. They will also be using the Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) instrument.
Scientists are hoping that the rover’s sand samples will explain how Martian winds can create different dune patterns. Especially when the fields are relatively close to each other and are on the same side of Mount Sharp. This is the case with the linear and crescent dunes being currently studied.
The researchers also want to discover if the winds are strong enough to affect how mineral compositions are distributed. This could have quite an impact in the study of Martian sandstones.
Mathieu Lapôtre has already compared the newest information with a previous mission’s data. He is a Caltech researcher and a team lead of the rover’s dune mission.
Lapôtre notes that there appears to be “more contribution from the wind coming down the slope of the mountain here compared with the crescent dunes farther north.”
As Curiosity studies the sand samples and Mount Sharp’s rock layers during its ascent, its science team hopes that it will provide some clues as to how Mars changed from its relatively hospitable past billions of years ago to its being inimical to life today.
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