Dunes on Mars glow blue in eerie new image of the Red Planet

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NASA’s veteran Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has captured a stunning image of a Martian dune field that reveals intricate details that could help scientists learn more about weather patterns in the Red Planet’s past.

The image, which is in false color, captures an area inside Gamboa Crater, a large impact basin near Chryse Planitia north of March‘ equator. The blue coloration is the result of image processing designed to accentuate the intricate features of the dune field, including tiny ripples that line the tops of larger dunes.

The smaller dunes captured in the image are only several feet apart when measured from ridge to ridge, NASA officials wrote in a statement (opens in a new tab). These small ripples coalesce into larger sand waves, about 9 meters (30 feet) apart, that radiate outward from the dunes.

Related: Stunning new Mars photos explore the largest canyon in the solar system

The larger and brighter roughly parallel features in the image are the so-called “transverse wind ridges,” or TARs, which are covered in very coarse sand, according to the statement.

“The mega ripples appear blue-green on one side of an enhanced color cutout while the TAR appears a brighter blue on the other,” NASA officials wrote. “This could be because the TARs are actively moving under the force of the wind, blowing away the darker dust and making them look brighter.”

By studying images like this, scientists can learn more about the direction of the wind that created these dunes in the distant past. The diversity of features reveals the relationships and differences between them. The images could help scientists infer the properties of the material these structures are made of, telling the story of how they formed.

The Mars reconnaissance orbiter, which took the image earlier this year, has been monitoring Mars for more than 16 years. The probe, which was designed to search for evidence of the past water on the now arid Martian surface, proved that the planet may have once been habitable. The orbiter also serves as a data relay for NASA’s Mars rovers Curiosity and Perseveranceand assists mission teams in selecting landing sites for new missions.

Follow Tereza Pultarova on Twitter @TerezaPultarova. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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