The Soggy Sands of Mars?

Apr 06, 2006
Mars

Cracks and fins in the sand in an American desert look very similar to features seen on Mars and may indicate the recent presence of water at the surface, according to a new study by researcher Greg Chavdarian and Dawn Sumner, associate professor of geology at UC Davis.

"Recent, as in ongoing now," Sumner said.

Images from the Mars rover "Opportunity" show patterns of cracks across the surface of boulders and outcrops. Some of these cracks are associated with long, thin fins that protrude from the surface.

Those features look very similar to cracks and fins that form on the sulfate-rich sands at White Sands National Monument in New Mexico. The desert national park has a similar geological environment to the area of Mars visited by Opportunity, Sumner said.

Chavdarian spent weeks surveying the features at White Sands for an undergraduate research project. He conducted lab experiments to try and reproduce the effects. He found that the cracks at White Sands only form and grow in damp sand, especially during the wet months of the winter. In June, the sand was dry and cracks were filled in or worn away.

Cracks do form in drying mud, but this is not mud, Sumner said. There was no explanation for the formation of these types of cracks in sulfate sands before Opportunity landed, she said.

Chavdarian also looked at two types of thin, brittle fins poking a few inches out of the desert sand, usually facing into the wind. The most common type was found only in January when the sand was moist.

Chavdarian and Sumner think that the fins are formed when water seeps into cracks in the sand, carrying minerals with it. The water evaporates away, leaving behind those minerals, which are exposed as the wind blows sand away. Windblown material sticks to the exposed fin, making it larger and stronger.

If the cracks and fins seen by the Opportunity rover on Mars are formed in the same way as the features at White Sands, it would provide evidence for water at the surface of Mars away from the polar ice caps, Sumner said. Mars' ice caps are mostly carbon dioxide with some water ice.

The research is published in the April issue of the journal Geology.

Source: UC Davis

Explore further: Cosmologists weigh cosmic filaments and voids

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Improved pavement markings can save lives

Mar 20, 2014

As spring finally emerges after a ferocious winter,, our battered roads will soon be re-exposed. While potholes and cracks might make news, a bigger concern should be the deterioration to pavement markings, ...

Image: Martian sand dunes in spring

Mar 07, 2014

(Phys.org) —Mars' northern-most sand dunes are beginning to emerge from their winter cover of seasonal carbon dioxide (dry) ice. Dark, bare south-facing slopes are soaking up the warmth of the sun.

Nanotracer tester tells about wells

Feb 24, 2014

A tabletop device invented at Rice University can tell how efficiently a nanoparticle would travel through a well and may provide a wealth of information for oil and gas producers.

Belgium reveals artificial island plan for wind energy

Jan 20, 2013

(Phys.org)—Belgium is to build an artificial island made of sand three km off the Belgian coast. This will be a doughnut-shaped structure designed to store wind energy once the plan gets a final go-ahead. This North Sea ...

Recommended for you

Astronauts to reveal sobering data on asteroid impacts

16 hours ago

This Earth Day, Tuesday, April 22, three former NASA astronauts will present new evidence that our planet has experienced many more large-scale asteroid impacts over the past decade than previously thought… ...

Rosetta instrument commissioning continues

17 hours ago

We're now in week four of six dedicated to commissioning Rosetta's science instruments after the long hibernation period, with the majority now having completed at least a first initial switch on.

Astronaut salary

17 hours ago

Talk about a high-flying career! Being a government astronaut means you have the chance to go into space and take part in some neat projects—such as going on spacewalks, moving robotic arms and doing science ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Cosmologists weigh cosmic filaments and voids

(Phys.org) —Cosmologists have established that much of the stuff of the universe is made of dark matter, a mysterious, invisible substance that can't be directly detected but which exerts a gravitational ...

Hubble image: A cross-section of the universe

An image of a galaxy cluster taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope gives a remarkable cross-section of the Universe, showing objects at different distances and stages in cosmic history. They range ...

Scientists tether lionfish to Cayman reefs

Research done by U.S. scientists in the Cayman Islands suggests that native predators can be trained to gobble up invasive lionfish that colonize regional reefs and voraciously prey on juvenile marine creatures.

Leeches help save woman's ear after pit bull mauling

(HealthDay)—A pit bull attack in July 2013 left a 19-year-old woman with her left ear ripped from her head, leaving an open wound. After preserving the ear, the surgical team started with a reconnection ...