This week I'm going to tell you about Martian dunes! If you've ever been to the beach or a desert, you would notice sculptured piles of sand. That is essentially what a dune is- a pile of sand. So what's the fascination with piles of sand on Mars?
Observing Martian dunes could not only tell us about what kinds of minerals are on the surface, but rather HOW they are transported. Imagine a large sandbox- with darker color minerals (like hematite) and lighter color minerals (quartz). If a gust of wind started to perpetually sculpt the sand into piles- we would notice that the darker materials are usually the heavier materials whereas the lighter minerals would move easier.
But not all dunes look alike. There are several different shapes a dune could make. This is all depending on the wind pattern in the area (and the minerals in the area). Below are some examples!
In several years back, I had the privilege to work under the USGS Astrogeology Team in Flagstaff, AZ for a couple of years (and still a little bit presently) to work on the mineral identification of Martian Dunes. I even got to present certain dune fields at the Eighth International Conference on Mars 2014! As of September 2015, I am happy to say that one of my dune fields was recognized by the International Astronomical Union (IAU)- yes, my team got to name a dune field on Mars. It's name: Ogygis Undae (pronounced: oh-JEE-jis oon-die). Here's a link to it: http://planetarynames.wr.usgs.gov/Feature/15370;jsessionid=F6625E406232CDC0E69B8C9AE43CD510
Tune in next week when I will talk about the Venus Chamber in our Planetary Simulations Lab!