While a rover scheduled to land on the Gale Crater in August might provide clues to Mars’ past, scientists at Caltech have made a discovery about the Red Planet’s current climate.
Using software to view high-resolution images from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter of sand dunes on Mars, called Nili Patera, a team at the university discovered that ripples in the dunes move at a similar speed to those in Antarctica.
Previously, scientists believed that the atmosphere on Mars was too thin to produce winds strong enough to move sand, said Jean-Philippe Avouac, a Caltech geology professor who initiated the study.
“We used to think that those dunes were not active,” Avouac said. “The geography of Mars is more active than we used to think.”
The discovery that the wind on Earth is not all that different from the wind on Mars is puzzling, he said.
“From what we know about the wind on Mars, it seems that it should not move so much," he said. "So we have to think about how the atmosphere of Mars is really working."
The COSI-Corr technology, which was invented at Caltech, can also detect faults in an earthquake and measure ice flow on Earth.
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory is currently managing the mission to land the rover Curiosity on Mars Aug. 5. Scientists hope the soil samples Curiosity will dig up will tell them if life once existed on the planet.
But the team at Caltech won't be looking for signs of water. The technology may give them clues about water, but it won't observe it in a direct way, said Avouac.
Instead, researchers want to find out how the sand is actually moving and uncover more information about the geography on Mars.
“I hope with this technology we can see other things happening on the planet,” said Avouac.