The Martian desert teems with geologic wonder.
Aboard NASA’s far-off satellite, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, a powerful camera recently captured a brilliant image of sand dunes inside a Martian crater. NASA took the image from 160 miles above the red desert, in the Tyrrhena Terra region on Mars, located in the planet’s southern hemisphere.
These are a curious type of dune, dubbed “star dunes.” They’re often formed inside craters when wind blows from different directions, ultimately creating a patterned landscape of intersecting, polygonal, star-like formations.
NASA scientists weren’t looking for these dunes, but “fortuitously” came across them while sleuthing for ancient clays in the crater. The camera that captured the image is called the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment, or HiRISE.
“An amazing aspect of Mars that is captured in many HiRISE images is geologic diversity within a small area,” NASA tweeted from its HiRISE account.
Star dunes in a crater on Mars. This dune region is over a mile wide. Credit: NASA / JPL / University of Arizona SEE ALSO: Compelling Mars photo shows Martian water flowed way more recently than we think
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NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, launched in 2006, has captured vivid images of Mars’ craters, valleys, dried-up rivers, and beyond, for 16 years. Up in space — and away from intense Martian dust storms — the satellite has outlasted all the Mars rovers.
And it doesn’t just capture the natural world. Recently, the satellite imaged China’s Zhurong rover rumbling across the Martian desert.