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MRO discovers interesting process on Mars surface – underground dry ice causes exploding sand dunes

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Exploding sand dunes on Mars

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft, or MRO, has discovered an interesting process on the surface of Mars – exploding sand dunes!  Enormous pressure from underground frozen carbon dioxide deposits is being released through the surface creating feathery looking sand dunes in Mar’s northern hemisphere. The results of these new studies will be published in the journal Icarus and were made from observations by MRO over three Martian years (six Earth years). NBC News explained how the process worked:

“The phenomenon is driven by the springtime thawing of a surface layer of frozen carbon dioxide, also known as dry ice. This thawing occurs first on the ice layer’s underside, which is in contact with the warming ground, researchers said. The dry ice sublimes from a solid state to a gaseous one, and pressure builds as more and more gas is produced and trapped. Eventually, cracks form in the ice, and some of the carbon dioxide gas breaks free, forming temporary grooves in the dune as it hisses out. The escaping gas also carries sand, which forms dark streaks as it spills across the dry ice covering the dune. These dark fans disappear as the seasonal ice evaporates, and Martian winds erase most of the newly formed grooves before the next winter and springtime roll around.”

It was also noted that the process has been observed near the Red Planet’s south pole too.

The video below, from JPL, explains the process in detail:


JPL video explaining how Mars sand dunes are shaped


Sources: NBC, JPL, NASA