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NASA’s Mars probes uncover billion-year-old dune fields frozen in time

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s HiRise camera captured these dune fields in Valles Marineris. They are estimated to be one billion years old

NASA / JPL / University of Arizona

Mars has a history of about 4.5 billion years. Thanks to our robotic explorers, we have a good perception of the current climate and atmosphere. A new study of ancient sand dunes points to what it might have looked like a billion years ago on the red planet.

A team led by Planetary Science Institute (PSI) researcher Matthew Chojnacki took a close look at a field of windswept dunes in Valles Marineris, an area on Mars known for its extensive canyons. The dunes appear to have been preserved through lithification, a geological process that transforms sediments into rock.

The team published a study on this window on the Martian past in JGR Planets magazine in August. “Based on the dune deposit̵

7;s relationships with other geological units and modern erosion rates, we estimate them to be around one billion years old,” Chojnacki said in a PSI statement on Monday.

An image from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter HiRise camera shows some of these intriguing dunes that now act as time capsules.

The dunes bear a resemblance to the current formations seen on Mars, which provides scientists with clues to the conditions long ago. “Due to the size of the dune shapes and spatial arrangements, which are not very different from modern equivalents, we suggest that the climate and atmospheric pressure were similar to those of contemporary Mars,” Chojnacki said.

The research adds to an ever-growing understanding of the geological history of Mars and how different the red planet is from Earth. While Mars is a dry and dusty place now, recent research suggests it they may be brackish lakes hidden hidden under the southern ice sheet.

A complex picture is emerging, but the history of the preserved dunes gives us insight into a fascinating area of ​​Mars and how consistent the weather forecast may have been – windy even a billion years ago.

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